Vaping is said to simulate the experience of smoking without exposing the user to the usual risks that come with smoking. Because the "smoke" from vaping is actually just water vapor, vaping poses little threat to the lungs, unlike tobacco smoke. However, some vaporizer solutions use nicotine, an addictive stimulant found in traditional cigarettes, and more study is needed to determine the safety of exposure to the chemicals and additives found in many of the flavored, nicotine-free vape solutions. Currently, there are few strict regulations on e-cigarettes or the sale of them to minors.

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Smoking versus Vaping comparison chart
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Introduction Smoking is a practice in which a substance, most commonly tobacco, is burned and the smoke is tasted or inhaled. Vaping refers to the use of pseudo- or e-cigarettes that simulate the experience of smoking without exposure to the health risk of smoking.
Medium Cigarette. Electronic cigarette, personal vaporizer (PV), or electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS).
Consists of Tobacco rolled in paper and lit up flame. A battery-powered device with liquid cartridge containing nicotine, solvents and flavors, battery, heating element.
Usage Restrictions Banned in many public areas, schools, airplanes, restaurants, etc. Usage is largely unrestricted but more restrictions possible in the future. Illegal in some countries, like Singapore and Malaysia.
Contains Nicotine? Yes Usually, but there are nicotine-free liquids as well.
Addictive? Yes Yes, in the case of nicotine liquids.
Tar? Yes No
Carbon Monoxide? Yes No
Lingering Odor? Yes No
Long-Term Health Risks Nicotine addiction, various forms of cancer, hypertension, early death, birth defect. Nicotine addiction when using liquids with nicotine. Long-term risks are unknown, but thought to be relatively low.
Second-Hand Risks Cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma. So far, there is no evidence of harmful secondhand exposure.
Birth Defects Shown to cause low birthweight, premature birth, fetal abnormalities. Unknown.

What is Vaping?

Vaping refers to the use of e-cigarettes that simulate the experience of smoking, and is usually meant for adult smokers who want to move away from the habit of traditional smoking. The term 'vaping' arises from inhaling and exhaling the vapor created from a combination of nicotine, a liquid and specific flavors, making it close to smoking without its risk to the lungs. There are versions of the vaping liquid that do not include nicotine, however.

Cigarette Make Up

Traditional cigarettes are rolled into a paper and are filled with a blend of tobacco. The tobacco is blended to give the cigarettes a fairly consistent taste, as specific tobacco crops have different flavors depending on growing conditions. Most cigarettes have a filter on the end made of cellulose acetate, which is biodegradable. Many cigarettes also have various chemical additives which alter the flavor, make the nicotine more addictive, and enhance the burning properties of the blend.

E-Cigarettes contain a cartridge of fluid that is vaporized. This fluid usually contains dissolved nicotine, solvents, and flavors. In most electronic cigarettes the fluid cartridge is refillable. There is also a battery that powers a small heating element, which vaporizes the liquid. 1st generation devices were made to look very similar to real cigarettes, but many newer models are larger and make no attempt to look like a traditional cigarette. The larger size allows for more nicotine fluid and bigger batteries. It should be noted that similar vaping devices are available for marijuana — e-cigarettes are just nicotine-specific vaping devices. For more information on the construction and types of vaping devices available on the market, see this video.


Cigarettes can only be sold to adults 18 years of age and older. Smoking in public places has been greatly restricted in the United States and in many other countries. While specific restrictions may vary from state to state, it is generally not permitted to smoke in public places such as restaurants, bars, movie theaters, etc. other than areas designated specifically for smoking.

Federal regulation of electronic cigarettes is largely nonexistent, and as of June 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to move forward on regulatory measures discussed a year earlier.[1] Several states have banned sale of the devices to anyone under 18 years of age. Overall, smokers are much more free to use e-cigarettes than real cigarettes, and they are can usually be used indoors, even in public places. Outside of the United States, restrictions vary from being nonexistent, to the devices being totally illegal.

Health Effects

Tobacco cigarettes are very addictive and are known to have extremely serious long-term health effects from extended use. In fact, they are the greatest cause of preventable death globally. Possible negative health effects include heart disease, stroke, emphysema, cancer, and hypertension. Extended and frequent use of tobacco cigarettes will almost always lead to an early death.

Long-term health effects of electronic cigarettes are largely unknown, as there is a general lack of hard data on the subject as it's relatively new. They are, however, considered safer and less destructive to health than traditional cigarettes.[2] They do usually contain nicotine, which remains as addictive as with real cigarettes, but there is no tar or other byproducts of burning. The “smoke” is actually water vapor, and electronic cigarettes are thought to be far safer for long-term health than paper cigarettes. The health concerns of center around the unknowns: the lack of FDA research on using the devices, and particularly the chemicals added to give flavor.

Studies on e-cigarettes

A study published in Oxford's Nicotine & Tobacco Research in May 2014 examined the production of carcinogenic carbonyl compounds — specifically formaldehyde and acetaldehyde — in e-cigarette vapors. Researchers found that the output voltage of the battery of the e-cigarette had an enormous impact on the quantity of carcinogens emitted. While at lower levels, the amounts of these carcinogens were significantly lower than tobacco smoke, the levels became roughly equal at higher voltages.

Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde were found in 8 of 13 samples. The amounts of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in vapors from lower voltage EC [e-cigarette] were on average 13- and 807-fold lower than in tobacco smoke, respectively. The highest levels of carbonyls were observed in vapors generated from PG-based solutions. Increasing voltage from 3.2 to 4.8V resulted in 4 to over 200 times increase in formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acetone levels. The levels of formaldehyde in vapors from high-voltage device were in the range of levels reported in tobacco smoke.
Conclusions: Vapors from EC contain toxic and carcinogenic carbonyl compounds. Both solvent and battery output voltage significantly affect levels of carbonyl compounds in EC vapors. High-voltage EC may expose users to high levels of carbonyl compounds.

Cigarettes and the Immune System

A 2016 research study found that

smoking suppresses the activity of 53 genes involved in the immune system. Vaping also suppressed those 53 immune genes—along with 305 others.

This means that people who vape may have a weakened immune system to defend against infections, even more so than people who smoke cigarettes. Researchers found that e-cigarettes varied in their gene-suppressing effects depending upon which additives were used in the vaping liquid. The most pronounced effects were from flavoring additives for cinnamon and butter flavors.

Secondhand Smoke

Exposure to secondhand smoke from tobacco cigarettes has been shown to cause cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma. Research has not shown that there is any safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Electronic cigarettes do not pose any secondhand risks. The main concern with these devices being used in public is their possible appeal to children.

Is Vaping Healthier than Smoking?

Research on the effects of chemicals inhaled from vaping is sparse. Research on the long-term effects of vaping is non-existent because vaping is so new. What's more, as the industry evolves, e-cigarette products and their ingredients not only widely vary by manufacturer but also keep changing over time.

As a general rule, doctors maintain that inhaling any kind of chemicals is a bad idea. However, smoking cigarettes is so harmful to health that in comparison, vaping—in spite of its chemical ingredients—is relatively safer. In a debate on whether e-cigarettes are a healthy way to quit smoking, Dr. Jed Rose, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation at Duke University, writes that

Available evidence also overwhelmingly supports the view that e-cigarettes are reasonably safe and—most important—far less risky than cigarettes.

Dr. Rose argues that vaping can be a good way to wean off cigarettes, especially for people for whom safer methods like nicotine patches have not worked. E-cigarettes deliver nicotine faster into the bloodstream, and also mimic the habitual aspects of smoking.

However, scientific opinion is equivocal. A review of two clinical trials concludes that ECs can help smokers to stop smoking long-term, but with important caveats:

  1. e-cigarettes are not more effective than nicotine patches, which are safer because they do not involve any harmful chemicals being inhaled.
  2. Scientists' confidence in the results of the clinical trials is low because of the limited sample size and lack of statistical significance.

A review of the evidence by The Economist concludes that e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes. The article does mention problems with e-cigarettes, such as toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein, metallic particles from the device’s heating element, and free radicals in the vapor. But the article contrasts these risks with the unambiguous harmful agents in cigarette smoke—70 carcinogens, as well as carbon monoxide (a poison), particulates, toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and arsenic, and oxidizing chemicals. The conclusion they draw is that while vaping is safer, “better than smoking” is not necessarily the same as “good for you”.


Formaldehyde is one of many carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. Formaldehyde is produced when smoking both cigarettes and e-cigarettes. This is confirmed by scientific research. However, the levels of formaldehyde released by e-cigarettes are lower compared with cigarette smoke.

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