There’s a lot of controversy in the media when it comes to how safe vaping is for you. Whilst there’s currently no studies of long term studies on the use of e cigarettes (they were only invented in 2003 after all) there’s significant support from Public Health England and the NHS. They’ve been endorsed as 95% safer than smoking and a useful tool in smoking cessation. We’re here to look more in depth at the comparison between conventional cigarettes and vaping.
SMOKING vs VAPING
HOW DO THEY AFFECT YOUR INSIDES?
The effect of smoking cigarettes is fairly well known, but some statistics may surprise you;
The ‘Big C’ - everyone knows about this one. The health risk associated with smoking is undeniable, with smoking contributing to more than 15 types of cancer.(2)
Smoking increases your risks of heart disease - including the likes of heart attack, coronary heart disease and strokes(10). This comes from a buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries, making it harder for your heart to pump blood.(7)
Your lungs obviously take the brunt of the effect of smoke - causing a whole variety of problems from coughing, emphysema, asthma and pneumonia. When it comes to hard facts - you can’t lie that the evidence is damning - around 7 in 10 cases on lung cancer in the UK are caused by smoking. (2)
Fertility problems occur in both men and women when you’re a smoker. Women who smoke will take longer to conceive and smoking around the time of conception can even increase the risk of childhood leukaemia. For men, even smoking as three months before conception can damage the DNA in sperm(7,10).
Even your gut health suffers. Recent studies have found that smokers gut microbiome (a fancy word for the collection of good bacteria your body needs) are often imbalanced for the worse - with a strong correlation between inflammatory diseases like Crohn's disease.(9)
As far as vaping goes - none of the ingredients are known carcinogens. If you use nicotine in your e-cig, you may find you get a drier mouth (this is largely down to PG being hydrophilic - big word I know but basically it means it absorbs water) but there’s also no correlation between any of the four ingredients in e liquid causing heart problems(3). Nicotine doesn't cause cancer either(4). As PG and VG are also classified as alcohols rather than lipids, they don’t leave fatty deposits in your lungs or arteries(6).
Whilst it’s not recommended to have nicotine products when you’re trying to fall pregnant, there are no risks associated with second hand vapour(6) - also, most women find it easier to quit smoking themselves when their partner is a non-smoker. Finally, the study that found an adverse effect on the gut health of smokers, found that non-smokers and vapers had the same healthy levels of gut flora.(9)
HOW DO THEY AFFECT YOUR PHYSICAL APPEARANCE?
It might be hard to appreciate the full impact cigarettes have on your organs when you can’t actually see them (how many smokers say they’re fine through a rasping cough?), but smoking has a raft of side effects on your physical appearance too - let’s look at how it adds up:
It goes without saying that smoking affects the look and feel of your skin. Bear with me (we’re about to get a bit technical) but there’s a protein in your skin called collagen, tobacco cigarettes create collagen-destroying enzymes meaning smokers age around five times faster than non-smokers. Women have significantly less collagen than men, meaning women will see this effect more strongly(10).
Discolouration in your teeth and nails. Yep, the tar in tobacco products accumulates on your teeth and nails, gradually causing them to change to a yellow tinted colour(10).
How much do you love your hair? Parallels have been drawn between toxins in cigarettes and their effect on harming hair follicles and damaging hormones, resulting in greying and premature hair loss.
All of these effects come down to the 4000+ chemicals from cigarettes, however when you vape you’ll breathe our water vapour, carbon dioxide (a natural byproduct of your normal breathing anyway), flavouring (which you can smell) trace amounts of nicotine and that’s it(3, 6). If you want to know more about what goes into it - have a look through our E Liquid Guide. There’s no tar to stain your teeth or nails, nor is there any carbon monoxide or other toxins that are going to break down your collagen or cause your hair to thin(11).
HOW DO THEY AFFECT OTHER PEOPLE?
Unfortunately, second hand smoke can be just as damaging to other people’s bodies as if you’re the one lighting up. In the UK alone in any given year, second-hand smoke contributes to cot-death, asthma and bronchitis in children(5).
Aside from the health implications on your own body, smokers also influence a younger generation with children of smokers being more like to take up smoking themselves.
The smell of cigarettes really hangs about. If you’re a non-smoker now (good for you!), have you ever gotten into an elevator for example and noticed how strongly the smells of smoke sticks to them? Or, if you visit the home of someone who smokes inside how it sticks to everything - even you?
As mentioned earlier - there’s no adverse effect of second-hand vapour(6). The number of byproducts of vapour can be counted on one hand, whereas cigarette smoke sends out over 7000 nasty chemicals(7) including tar, carbon monoxide and lead. When it comes to smell, whilst you might get a whiff of creme brulee or some fruit cocktail from a passing ecig user, vapour from e-cigarettes doesn’t actually stick to people or their clothes. Even if it did, would it really be that bad to smell like a dessert?
HOW DO THEY AFFECT YOUR LIFESTYLE?
Smoking makes exercise more difficult. The reason for this (we’re about to get scientific again) is that smoke contains carbon monoxide (CO) which bonds to your blood cells more easily than oxygen can. This means when you light up, your body is getting less oxygen than it needs and as CO lingers in your blood for up to 24 hours. Simple things like running up a flight of stairs becomes a lot more taxing than they normally would be.(13)
Decreased sense of smell and taste. Because your sense of taste is directly linked to how much you can taste your food, the effect is two-fold. Toxins from smoke damage the nerves in your nose and over time can actually change the shape of your taste buds, making them flatter and less able to detect flavour. The issue with this is more than just being less able to smell the roses or enjoy a glass of wine - your sense of smell is an important one for detecting things like a gas leak in your house, or food that’s gone off.(13)
Cost - one is significantly more expensive than the other. Your average smoker (around a pack a day) can spend up to £50 a week which, when you add that up over a year is around £2,600. Ouch.
Sprinting for the last train, playing sport or just racing around your home to do a last minute clean before your parents arrive won’t be an issue when you vape. There’s no carbon monoxide in e liquid so you won’t struggle with normal everyday, physical tasks. Who doesn’t love the smell of coffee, the taste of garlic or a really good glass of wine? When you quit smoking and start vaping, your sense of smell and taste actually come back to you pretty quickly - in around just 48 hours(13). As far as spend goes, after you’ve spent a bit on the initial set-up costs (though beginner vape kits can cost as little as £10) you’ll probably only need to spend around £5 - £15 a week on replacement coils and e liquid.
WHAT'S THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT?
Think about what goes into cigarettes - paper, tobacco and a whole lot of other chemicals. E-cigs on the other hand have no paper or plant material and a lot of their components you use long term or can recycle. How does this stack up as far as a footprint goes? Well…
600 million trees are cut down annually for cigarette production - with each tree being able to be made into around 300 cigarettes(13).
In 2016, the world consumed a massive 5.7 trillion (so you can wrap your head around the number - that’s 5,700,000,000,000) cigarettes. Of those, around 4.5 trillion are thrown on the ground, often ending up in waterways or eaten by animals mistaking them for food(14).
With global air quality levels getting worse, cigarette smoke isn’t helping. We already know second-hand smoke affects other people as much as it does the smoker. Burning cigarettes release the carcinogens and other toxins that they contain.
Producing the ingredients for e liquid is much simpler - propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin can be made in mass in a lab and the purity and quality can be carefully monitored. As there’s no paper in vapes, no trees are harmed in the making of your juice either.
1. E-cigarettes around 95% less harmful than smoking -gov.uk
2. Smoking Facts and Evidence - Cancer Research UK
3. E-cigarettes - an evidence update -gov.uk
4. Nicotine Does Not Cause Cancer -Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
5. Passive smoke - cancerresearchuk.org
6. How safe is e-cig vapour? -nhs.uk
7. 7000 Harmful Chemicals in Cigarette Smoke -cancer.gov
8. The environmental impact of tobacco - who.int
9. Cigarette smoke changes the gut microbiome -microbiomeinstitute.org
10. Effects of smoking on the body - nhs.uk
11. Smoking and tooth discolouration - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
12. Associations between smoking and hair loss - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
13. What happens when you quit - nhs.uk
14. Environment - tobaccoatlas.org
15. Consumption - tobaccoatlas.org
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