Is vaping worse than smoking a cigarette?

Is vaping worse than smoking a cigarette?

21 April 2021

Some people believe that vaping is better for your health than smoking – but is it really?

Over recent years, vaping has seen a dramatic rise in popularity compared to conventional cigarettes. Much research has been published about how bad smoking is for one’s health, and there’s an increasing perception that vaping is less harmful than smoking tobacco – plus the fact that it can be done in places that are smoke free, such as pubs, shopping centres and restaurants.

Vaping is also being increasingly used by people as a means to stop smoking, as they allow one to ingest nicotine without inhaling smoke and other chemicals into the lungs. However, evidence is now emerging that vaping contains its own batch of chemicals that can be very harmful to your health. So, is vaping safe – or is it even worse than smoking a cigarette?

What is vaping?

Vaping involves an e-cigarette that uses use a battery to heat up a special liquid (usually containing nicotine) into an aerosol that the user then inhales.

What chemicals are used in cigarettes vs. vaping?

Conventional cigarettes contain nicotine as well as several other chemicals including:

  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Ammonia
  • Radioactive elements
  • Benzene
  • Carbon monoxide

Many of these substances cause cancer, while others can cause heart disease, lung disease or other serious health problems.

A common myth about vaping is that it is “cleaner” as it contains fewer chemicals than cigarettes – but that’s not necessarily the case. Many people assume that vape pens emit water vapour, when actually the vape clouds produced are aerosols containing a variety of chemicals that can include:

  • Propylene glycol – a common additive in food; also used to make things like antifreeze, paint solvent, and artificial smoke in fog machines
  • Acrolein – a herbicide used to kill weeds that can cause permanent lung damage
  • Diacetyl – a chemical linked to a lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans
  • Diethylene glycol – a toxic chemical used in antifreeze and linked to lung disease
  • Cadmium – a toxic metal also often found in traditional cigarettes that causes breathing problems and disease
  • Acetaldehyde and formaldehyde
  • Benzene
  • Heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead

What are the long term effects of vaping vs. cigarettes?

The long term effects of smoking are well known and include diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

While the data on long term vape usage is more limited, negative effects are already emerging. Vape juices vary and may contain largely unregulated elements, but studies are showing that they have negative health consequences, including:

  • Immune system depression: Just as smoking decreases the gene expression of some genes that fight viruses and bacteria, vaping affects even more of them.
  • Negative effects on the breath and skin: Propylene glycol removes moisture from the skin, causing it to dry and sag. It also stops saliva from being able to wash away bacteria associated with halitosis.
  • Damage to your oral health: The chemicals from vaping can cause irreversible damage to your mouth and gums. In addition, oral inflammation can occur as a result of oxidative stress, which can lead to other oral diseases.
  • Carcinogens: The variety of chemicals mentioned have been shown to cause a variety of cancers over the long term.
  • Second hand risks: The exhaled vape clouds contain cancer-causing chemicals like aldehydes, which put people surrounding you at risk – and they also leave residual nicotine on indoor surfaces.

What about waterpipe tobacco smoking?

Another popular alternative to traditional cigarettes in South Africa is smoking tobacco through a waterpipe, also known as a hub, hookah, hubbly bubbly or shisha.

The waterpipe usually consists of a base glass container attached to one or many smoking tubes. The tobacco smoke is cooled by passing it through water in the container prior to inhaling it.

There’s a common misconception that hookah pipe smoking is not dangerous – or at least not as dangerous as cigarettes. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that the smoke from a waterpipe contains several toxins known to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases. In addition, the charcoal burned in the pipes often produces its own toxins such as carbon monoxide and other cancer-causing chemicals.

What really works to stop smoking?

While there is evidence that vaping can help alleviate the symptoms of tobacco withdrawal, the chemicals they emit come with their own dangers. As with anything, there is no “magic cure”, and evidence suggests that the best way to quit smoking is through a tobacco cessation program that includes behavioural modification, support and perhaps nicotine replacement therapy.

One example of such a programme in South Africa is the GoSmokeFree Stop Smoking Programme, which is a built-in benefit available to all Fedhealth medical aid members. The programme combines behaviour change techniques, one-on-one support and pharmacotherapy that is provided by trained nursing sisters or pharmacists in clinics within community pharmacies. If you’re looking to quit smoking, a programme such as this can help you on your way.


DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.

You may also be interested in

Request a Call

Request a Call

I am:

Complete your contact information below.

By clicking the button below, you are giving consent to be contacted by an accredited healthcare sales representative/broker regarding medical scheme and other related products.

What can we help you with?

By clicking the button below, you are giving consent to be contacted by a representative of the Fedhealth customer services team.

What can we help you with?

By clicking the button below, you are giving consent to be contacted by a representative of the Fedhealth Broker sales/ support team.