Is Vaping Safer than Smoking?

The eternal question. In the decade since vaping has really taken off, people have been arguing back and forth over its health risks to the individual, as compared to smoking, and its health risks to the public at large. Unfortunately, there’s no easy, clear-cut answer just yet. The short answer to the question is yes, most research suggests vaping is safer than traditional smoking in many ways, but the long answer is that we just don’t have all the evidence yet.

Asking the right questions

First, we have to take a step back and decide what we’re really asking when we compare the health risks of smoking and vaping. How exactly do you want to define “safer?” Preliminary studies seem to suggest that vaping is safer than smoking as it pertains to immediate lung effects. In the short term, at least, the data seem to be suggesting that vaping is a less harmful act than traditional smoking. People who make the switch to vaping usually see improved lung function and tire less quickly. But calling this sparse body of research definitive would be wishful thinking at best.

Vaping appears to eliminate certain dangers associated with smoking, but could potentially introduce new ones. Formaldehyde, for example, has been found in the vapor from vaping devices on several occasions. So we have to quantify our original question. “Safer” is a very imprecise term. It is hard to put an exact number on the level of “danger” provided by one nicotine consumption method versus the other.

Safer for whom?

We also have to consider who the question is being asked for. Nicotine users, yes, but what about the issue of second-hand smoke, or second-hand vape, as it were? There is almost no research in this area. Conventional wisdom states that since vaping produces no smoke, it is therefore not harmful to nearby people daring to breathe. But like everything in the world, there still needs to be science to back up this claim.

So far, very little research has been done on the effects of second-hand vaping, but those studies that do exist have found a noticeable impairment of air quality in the presence of vaping. How harmful these particles may be to the average person is yet to be determined.

Vaping versus smoking

But can vaping really be called a safe alternative to smoking? Are those that make the switch merely jumping out of the frying pan and straight into the fire? Or are they potentially lengthening their lifespans? While e-cigarettes and vaping devices contain no tobacco, the leading carcinogen in most cigarettes, they do often contain up to two dozen other toxic chemicals, the full effects of which are not as well known.

Lack of regulation, lack of research

It may seem like ancient history, but it is worth remembering that our current consensus on tobacco products took decades to fully form. After all, it was a good fifty years between the surgeon general’s first condemnation of tobacco smoking and the first few public smoking bans.

It took a lot of time and research to concretely establish the links between smoking and various illnesses like COPD and lung cancer. Vaping, unfortunately, is just too new for there to be much concrete evidence either way. It will be decades before we start to see the long-term effects of vaping on the human body and probably even longer before a significant number of long-term studies are completed. The longest vaping studies available go back only a couple of years. And it’s important to remember that studies involving human trials need to be repeated more times than other types of studies because of the inability to truly control for all the variables human beings present.

At the moment, we have a disarray of competing data on vaping, none of which can truly be placed in the realm of facts until more follow up studies have been conducted.

Another major hindrance to the whole issue is the lack of regulation in the vaping world. Although the FDA is making cautious steps towards national health and safety standards, vaping still remains largely unregulated. With no regulatory body standardizing battery specs or e-Juice manufacturing techniques, businesses are basically free to work as they see fit. And it’s very hard to guarantee that what sparse research into vaping there is will even apply to the specific brand that any one person consumes.

The verdict

Unfortunately the final verdict at the moment is one no one likes to hear: we just don’t know yet. Right now it comes down to personal choice. Each individual has to take into account the known risks of smoking with the potential risks of vaping and make that decision for themselves. For more information, visit

Posted in The BasicsTagged ,