Vaping vs. smoking cigarettes: Is one safer or more dangerous than the other?

Vaping vs. smoking cigarettes: Is one safer or more dangerous than the other?
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Is vaping safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes? The answer is complicated.

While some e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals, most scientists agree that vaping is less dangerous than traditional cigarettes.

In reference to a report from the Royal College of Physicians published in April, Professor John Britton and his colleagues wrote that e-cigarettes and other non-tobacco nicotine products "offer the potential to radically reduce harm from smoking in our society."

"This is an opportunity that should be managed, and taken," the RCP researchers concluded.

E-cigarettes, commonly referred to as "vapes"
Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The National Health Service of England is in agreement, citing the lack of toxic smoke in e-cigs. "As there is no burning involved [with e-cigarettes], there is no smoke," the NHS' webpage for going smoke-free, states. "Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not produce tar and carbon monoxide. The vapor has been found to contain some toxicants also found in cigarette smoke, but at much lower levels," the summary continued.

Vaping is not without risks. Even though most experts agree that e-cigs are less dangerous than smoking, there are still proven risks to vaping.

In addition to nicotine, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, is present in vaping fluid. Another chemical, diacetyl — a flavoring agent linked to lung disease — has been traced as well.

A man exhales in a vape shop
Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In an experiment conducted at the University of Southern California, researchers found that vapor extracted from e-cigarettes caused exposed human cells to die far quicker than their untreated counterparts, reported the Telegraph.

"Our study strongly suggests that electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing makes them appear to the public," University of California, San Diego, professor Jessica Wang-Rodriguez said to the Telegraph.

But if used responsibly with a goal of eventually quitting smoking altogether, many scientists argue that vaping can have long-term benefits to world health.

"We must be careful not to restrict smokers' access to e-cigarettes, or overstate the potential harm of their use, if this will put people off making the transition from smoking to vaping," University of Bristol professor Marcus Munafo wrote for the Conversation.

"To do so would deny us one of the greatest public health improving opportunities of the last 50 years."