Both smoking and vaping have side effects and risks. The long-term health effects of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are not fully understood, but the science indicates they are not a safe alternative to smoking.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), many people believe that vaping is safer than smoking, but this is not necessarily the case. Mounting evidence suggests that vaping is dangerous.

Vaping involves breathing in an aerosol that contains several chemicals, including nicotine and flavoring, through an e-cigarette or vape. Vaping is growing in popularity among teenagers.

In this article, we discuss the risks of vaping versus smoking and consider the long-term effects and risks of both.

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Neither smoking nor vaping is beneficial to human health. Based on the available evidence, smoking appears more harmful than vaping, but this does not mean that vaping is safe.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds of these chemicals are toxic, and around 70 cause cancer.

The AHA notes that while vaping liquids contain fewer contaminants than cigarettes, they are not entirely safe.

Risks of vaping

People who vape may be at risk of harm from:

  • Nicotine: E-cigarettes can contain a large dose of nicotine, a substance known to slow the development of brains in fetuses, children, and teens.
  • Dangerous chemicals: The liquid that creates the vapor is dangerous to adults and children if they swallow, inhale, or get it on their skin. Vaping also delivers toxins such as diacetyl, cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to the lungs.
  • Lung injury: E-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) is a new phenomenon that occurs as a result of vaping. Most cases occur due to products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which comes from cannabis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by early 2020, there had been around 2,800 cases of EVALI, with 68 of those resulting in death.

Learn more about the potential harm of vaping here.

Risks of smoking

Unlike vaping, which is relatively new, there are years of research to back up claims that smoking is damaging to health. According to the CDC, smoking causes:

  • damage to every organ in the body
  • more than 480,000 deaths a year in the United States
  • 90% of all lung cancer deaths
  • about 80% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • an increased risk of developing health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke
  • an increased risk of death

Learn more about how smoking affects the body.

Smoking has many long-term adverse effects on the body. The CDC reports that smoking:

Discover 11 tips to quit smoking.

Research generally accepts that while vaping can harm the lungs and other bodily systems, its impact is much less than tobacco smoking.

However, a 2019 study into the long-term health effects of vaping found that people using e-cigarettes had a higher risk of respiratory disease than people who never smoked.

Vaping may:

  • damage the lungs
  • release free radicals, which promote cancer development, into the body
  • weaken the immune system
  • delay brain development in fetuses, children, and teenagers

Some people also report sustaining burns when recharging e-cigarettes due to defective batteries leading to explosions.

Health services in the United Kingdom say that vaping can be an effective tool for quitting smoking. Additionally, in 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permitted the marketing of three e-cigarette products, specifically citing their potential benefit in helping people quit smoking.

However, the CDC states that there is insufficient evidence to suggest vaping can help people quit smoking.

Using vapes to quit smoking

A 2021 study found that daily e-cigarette usage among tobacco smokers can increase the likelihood of quitting smoking eightfold. Researchers assessed data from the 2014­–2019 Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, focusing on smokers who were not planning to quit smoking at the start of the period.

At the end of the survey, 28% of smokers using e-cigarettes daily had ceased smoking tobacco altogether, while 45.5% had ceased smoking tobacco daily.

However, researchers found that only daily e-cigarette use had a statistically significant effect on smoking cessation rates.

Of the participants who were not using e-cigarettes, only 5.8% had quit smoking altogether by the end of the survey, while 9.9% had stopped smoking daily.

Meanwhile, people who were smoking e-cigarettes non-daily had a 3.1% rate of quitting smoking and a 10.2% rate of cutting down to non-daily tobacco smoking.

A 2019 randomized control study also found that daily e-cigarette use leads to an almost doubled rate of smoking abstinence than other nicotine-replacement products after one year.

Addictive properties of smoking and vaping

Nicotine is highly addictive. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that around half of all smokers try to quit every year, while only 6% manage to do so.

A 2019 study suggests that nicotine-containing e-cigarettes may have a higher addiction potential than standard cigarettes among young adults.

Researchers noted that study participants using both types of cigarettes had a higher nicotine dependence in relation to e-cigarettes.

However, nicotine alone is relatively harmless, and switching from daily tobacco smoking to daily e-cigarette use can be an important step for people to stop smoking completely.

A person can use a vaping device to inhale THC. THC is the chemical in cannabis that produces a high.

According to a 2018 study examining infrequent cannabis smoking in adults, vaping THC produced stronger mind-altering effects than smoking a similar amount of weed.

As a result, vaping THC may produce a faster, stronger high, but it may also mean that people experience more adverse effects.

Vaping and smoking share similar negative effects on the body, such as damage to the lungs and increased cancer risk.

Researchers know more about the long-term effects of smoking than those of vaping. However, vaping products contain a great deal fewer harmful chemicals than cigarettes and can be an effective tool in quitting smoking altogether.

However, while vape products can reduce the amount of tar and other chemicals a person inhales, they can increase a person’s nicotine dependency.