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Which Is Better for Your Lungs? Vaping or Smoking?

October 19, 2022

In recent years, e-cigarettes, also called vaping, have become a new trend for people looking to quit cigarettes. It's also become popular even amongst people who were never smokers. With its rise in popularity comes misconceptions as well.

Can healthy adults prevent lung injury by switching to vaping products? In this article, we share what medical professionals and the latest research suggest about the harmful long-term effects of vaping vs smoking and which one is better for your lung health.

Is Cigarette Smoking or E-Cigarettes Worse for Lungs?

Not long ago, smoking traditional cigarettes was a commonly accepted practice in planes, restaurants, office buildings, etc. That is until many people quit smoking because society learned of the grave effects of cigarettes and secondhand smoke on a person's health. Now, it's common knowledge that cigarette smoking can negatively impact your overall health, especially your lungs.

While both smoking and vaping contain the highly addictive stimulant nicotine, the difference in how it is delivered, amongst other factors, sets one apart as being worse than the other.

According to the clinical research director of Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H., the smoke from combustible cigarettes contains 7,000 chemicals, most of those being toxic to your body.

While it's uncertain the exact amount and type of chemicals in the vapour produced by e-cigarettes, Dr. Blaha explains that the tobacco smoke from regular cigarettes exposes you to more harmful chemicals than vaping.

Smoking

Tobacco use not only negatively impacts your health, but it also affects anyone else breathing in the same smoke. Some of the major dangers ingested from tobacco smoking include:

NIcotine addiction

  • Narrows the passageways of your arteries and veins
  • Causes your heart to work harder to maintain the flow of oxygen and blood
  • Raises blood pressure
  • Spikes adrenaline

Carbon Monoxide

  • Reduces the amount of oxygen your body needs to circulate blood properly
  • Causes swelling of the airways and blocks air from your lungs

Tar

  • The sticky substance that coats the lungs
  • Contains the majority of chemicals that cause cancer

Because doctors have been able to study the effects of cigarette smoke for a more extended period, there is sufficient evidence to say smoking decreases the life expectancy and quality of life of a person.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that smoking causes:

  • Over 480,000 annual deaths in the United States
  • 90% of total deaths from lung cancer
  • Nearly 80% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) deaths

Vaping

When e-cigarettes first hit the market, many hailed them as a healthier alternative. It led some, especially young people, to believe it was risk-free. But, as history tends to repeat itself, it's becoming more apparent that vaping also comes with its risks.

A top criticism of the e-cigarette industry is that it is relatively unregulated.

Purchasing vaping products from trusted manufacturers that take measures to control the quality of their e-liquids can help you avoid any unnecessary risks to your health.

Vaping bad e-cigarettes from the black market or unreliable sources like friends and family can result in harm. Users risk purchasing a vaping device that contains excessive nicotine dosages or chemicals such as vitamin e acetate.

E-cigarettes consist of a battery and a chamber that heats the liquid to create a vapour that we then inhale. Because there is no combustion in vaping, there's no tar or carbon monoxide. But, although the liquid in vapes carries fewer contaminants than that of burning tobacco, e-cigarette use also presents the following concerns, according to the CDC:

  • Reignited the normalization of nicotine users, especially among young adults
  • Delivers toxic chemicals, including:
    • Nicotine
    • Diacetyl
    • Heavy metals
    • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
    • Chemicals causing cancer
    • Caffeine
  • The liquid causing e-cigarette vapour is dangerous to a person if inhaled, swallowed, or makes contact with the skin
  • Vapes give users easy access to large doses of nicotine that is difficult to track compared to cigarettes

Earlier in the production of e-cigarettes, vitamin e acetate was a thickening agent included in vaping flavourings. In 2020, the CDC found that vaping was the cause of:

  • Around 2,8000 hospitalizations
  • Total of 68 confirmed deaths

Since the removal of vitamin e acetate, the number of users reporting symptoms has decreased. Still, this chemical is present in many modified vape products sold by informal sources.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Smoking?

As we know, inhaling the harmful chemicals from secondhand smoke cause damage to our bodies. But what do we know about the long-term effects of the chemicals from smoking?

Health Risks

The CDC states that smoking traditional cigarettes negatively impacts almost every one of your organs and can cause or increase risks to your health, such as:

  • Cancer Development (e.g. lung, throat, mouth, bladder, etc.)
  • Cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart attack, stroke, blood clots, etc.)
  • Strokes
  • Lung diseases (e.g. emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, etc.)
  • Diabetes
  • Other Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD)
  • Immune system disorders
  • Certain eye diseases (e.g. macular degeneration)
  • Oral disease
  • Tuberculosis
  • Rheumatoid
  • General inflammation
  • Reduced sperm count
  • Fertility issues (e.g. pregnancy loss, congenital disabilities, etc.)
  • Osteoporosis and menopause
  • Premature Death

Other Associated Health Risks

The use of tobacco products can also have the following physical health effects:

  • Staining of the tongue, teeth, and fingertips
  • Dullness of hair
  • Premature wrinkles and loss of firmness in the skin
  • Bad breath and increased risk of tooth loss

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Vaping?

We've covered that e-cigarettes have a less harmful effect on our lungs than smoking. Still, it's not without any side effects from potentially harmful substances.

Health Risks

Daily e-cigarette use is a relatively new trend among young adults. As such, we have limited information to back up the long-term effects of vaping products on our health. E-cigarette use has been linked to:

  • Slowing the brain development of fetuses, children, and teenagers
  • The release of cancer-causing chemicals into the body
  • Impairing the function of the body's defences
  • Damage to the lungs
  • Burns caused by vaping liquids

A research article published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in December 2019 found that e-cigarette users have an increased risk of respiratory disease. The study also showed that dual use of traditional cigarettes and vapes posed even more harmful effects than using one alone.

Should You Vape to Quit Smoking?

Many smokers switch to vaping from combustible cigarette smoking with the goal of quitting eventually. The results of a study published in February 2019 by the New England Journal of Medicine show this may be an effective smoking cessation programme.

The study found that e-cigarettes containing low amounts of nicotine may be an effective cessation tool.

In this study, they separated tobacco smokers into two control groups. The first group attempted to abstain from smoking combustible cigarettes with whatever nicotine-replacement product of their choosing. The second group quitting smoking received e-cigarettes.

This study showed that only 3% of the first group successfully abstained from cigarettes for at least a year. The figure compared to 18% of the second group using an e-cigarette.

This research suggests e-cigarettes might be able to increase a smoker's likelihood to stop smoking completely. However, that isn't to say that vaping is less harmful or that e-cigarette vapor has any health benefits.

Indeed, scientific positions on this matter are still inconclusive. Some wellness professionals don't suggest vaping or using e-cigarettes to quit smoking because many former smokers continue to smoke and vape.

Alternatives to Vaping and Smoking

Vaping isn't the only alternative for smokers looking to wean themselves from cigarettes with a milder substitute. Other alternatives to vaping and smoking include:

  • Patches, gum, or lozenges
  • Medicines (e.g. varenicline, bupropion)
  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy

To find out what program or treatment method would be best to get you to quit smoking, speak to your primary care physician.

Conclusion

When comparing tobacco smoking to using e-cigarettes, neither comes without adverse health effects and lung injuries. E-cigarettes may deliver fewer toxic chemicals to the lungs, but they are still potentially dangerous. The nicotine in both electronic cigarettes and combustible cigarettes is equally as addictive.

Options exist to reduce nicotine intake and protect lung health. Smokers can scale down their nicotine levels when vaping and eventually move toward nicotine-free options so that only the habit of inhaling remains without the addictive substance.

If you recently switched to vaping from traditional cigarettes and want to reduce your nicotine intake, look for trusted sources like RELX. With low and zero-nicotine pods and high-quality vape pens, you'll find many options to begin your smoking cessation.



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