So what is the difference between a smoker and a vaper?
When you read about vaping in a negative tone in the news / media what you will find over and over again is the idea that a vaper and smoker are essentially the same thing. When you read about Covid-19 for example you have the mayor of New York grouping both together in a way to send the message that both will bring you harm. Google any vaping article and the first page at least of vaping articles will come from websites that portray vaping in the same light as smoking, with the same hidden dangers. Except, that is certainly not the case and I am here to explain to you why that is. Whether it is lazy journalism, ignorant politicians or funded research that portray vapers as smokers, it seems to miss some of the more obvious points in the comparison, mainly how vaping affects us compared to smoking.
So what I want to do today is start to break down the differences in vaping when compared to smoking, to offer a more definitive example of why a vaper is nothing like a smoker. Instead of focusing on the lazy journalism that litters the internet and public conscious, I want to explore why vaping is different to smoking and more importantly, why vapers should not be in the same bracket as a smoker anymore. It does seem to stem from the idea that it is ‘just as bad for you’ or that inhaling anything brings the same risks, even if the voice does not know why that is. To start with we will look at the similarities between the two before we truly start to break down the illusion fed to so many around the world.
Table of Contents
Smoking vs Vaping- Similarities
when you break down the ingredients within both a cigarette and a E-liquid what you will find is that the only component that remains the same is nicotine. There is nothing else there that is constant except for the drug nicotine which is where a lot of ignorant thinking seems to stem from. The nicotine is the addictive substance shared by both which is what makes it so hard to quit smoking and amplifies the importance of swapping the deliverance method of it. That is one of the key parts that is often forgotten about vaping, it isn’t a quit tool in the literal sense, it is a way to swap that dependency to a much safer alternative that gives you more control to quit in the future. So to take a look at nicotine as a similarity, we need to see how the stuff works in the human body to see if it really is as dangerous as it is made out.
Nicotine works by stimulating our nervous system to release specific chemical messengers (hormones and neurotransmitters) that affect different parts of our brain and body. One hormone that nicotine affects is epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. When nicotine is inhaled, the buzz you feel is the release of epinephrine which stimulates the body and causes your blood pressure and heart rate to increase, and makes you breathe harder. Nicotine also activates a specific part of your brain that makes you feel happy by stimulating the release of the hormone dopamine. The release of dopamine when nicotine is inhaled is thought to be the source of the pleasurable sensations you experience when smoking, which can include relaxation, a buzz, and relief of tension.
So when we Inhale nicotine via smoking or vaping, the nicotine has the same effects in both cases and carry the same issues, effects and feelings. Psychologically it may ‘feel’ different between smoking and vaping but essentially the same things are happening inside of us.
Another similarity between smoking and vaping is the way in which we use both products, via inhaling. IT may seem like an obvious comparison but in drawing comparisons between the two it is important to establish this. Both products are inhaled into the lungs and once inside, the nicotine aspect works in a very similar way. Smoking uses a drag method which is directly comparable to MTL style in vaping, where the vapour is taken into the mouth before inhaled. Sub ohm vaping differs through the direct lung inhalation method which allows greater volumes of vaper to be inhaled but at a lower nicotine strength than MTL variants.
So now that we have established the similarities between the two products, we can start to take a look at the differences and really establish the fact that a vaper and a smoker aren’t at all the same thing. We will take a look at research and findings to really give an idea on how they are different.
Smoking vs Vaping- Differences
When you look at both smoking and vaping, one of the biggest differences between the two is the ingredients of them and how they affect us. This part is often forgotten when comparisons are made so we will break down exactly what is in each one and really see what makes them so different.
Tobacco is the plant grown around the world that is harvested for both tobacco that is smoked and nicotine in a pure form. The ingredients to a cigarette however will open your eyes as to exactly what is in there, what you inhale each and every cigarette to light up. At any given time, when you inhale a cigarette you are inhaling in different volumes;
Acetone—found in nail polish remover
Acetic acid—an ingredient in hair dye
Ammonia—a common household cleaner
Arsenic—used in rat poison
Benzene—found in rubber cement and gasoline
Butane—used in lighter fluid
Cadmium—active component in battery acid
Carbon monoxide—released in car exhaust fumes
Hexamine—found in barbecue lighter fluid
Lead—used in batteries
Naphthalene—an ingredient in mothballs
Methanol—a main component in rocket fuel
Tar—material for paving roads
Toluene—used to manufacture paint
In fact there are up to 4000 different ingredients every time you light up a cigarette but I wanted to bring to you some of the more frightening ones. Just think, you would not inhale arsenic, lead or carbon monoxide through free will but you would through a cigarette? So when you inhale all of these components you start to find that the adverse effects start to creep up on you. Once you realise what is in a cigarette, then you need to start to take a look at some of the potential illnesses that you can suffer as a result;
Other body cancers
To name but a few potentially life ending conditions. This is all directly related to the sheer amount of poisons that you are inhaling in your cigarette each and every puff you take. The illnesses and conditions are direct outcomes of inhaling such a vast range of dangerous substances. So compare that to vaping.
Vaping is known to have 4 different components, flavouring (PG based), Propylene Glycol (PG), Vegetable Glycerine (VG) and nicotine. We have already established what nicotine is and how it operates so let’s take a look at the other three and see if they compare to the ingredients of smoking. Propylene Glycol is a man made substance that has many different uses in the world, from additives to any medicine that is delivered via an aerosol. One of the biggest aerosol medicines that people use around the world are inhalers, so PG is already widely used to treat people rather than remain a mystery. So how about VG? Well although there is no direct research into inhaling this, you can look back to plenty of research including the following which talks about the general effects of E-liquid and its chemical make up;
There was no evidence of potential for exposures of e-cigarette users to contaminants that are associated with risk to health at a level that would warrant attention if it were an involuntary workplace exposures. The vast majority of predicted exposures are < <1% of TLV. Predicted exposures to acrolein and formaldehyde are typically <5% TLV. Considering exposure to the aerosol as a mixture of contaminants did not indicate that exceeding half of TLV for mixtures was plausible. Only exposures to the declared major ingredients — propylene glycol and glycerine — warrant attention because of precautionary nature of TLVs for exposures to hydrocarbons with no established toxicity.
So taking that into account, when tested as an E-liquid, Vegetable glycerine which was one of the more focal points of the research was found not to be harmful in any given scenario. Finally we will look at the flavourings and see if they bring harm. While there are no direct research into the effects of flavours when inhaled, most companies who make E-liquid have their flavours independently tested prior to release in labs to ensure they are safe to use. For example, Capella, one of the biggest concentrate companies in the world have this on their website
(oil based concentrates are used in baking not E-liquid production).
So although independent research has not been published on the matter, every single flavour before it even reaches an E-liquid company to sell/use is tested to ensure its safety on the user. So each component of an E-liquid has been safe or at the very least significantly safer than smoking, so how about cancer causing ingredients? One of the tag lines with vaping is no long term research, yet cancer research centres (funded by cancer research UK) published the following;
Significantly lower levels of cancer causing chemicals, TSNAs and VOCs were found in samples from former smokers using e-cigarettes only or NRT only, compared with current smokers. Their levels were lower than both those who smoked cigarettes only, or smokers using either e-cigarette or NRT alongside cigarettes.
Former smokers using e-cigarettes only had significantly lower levels of the toxic chemical NNAL (a by-product of exposure to TSNAs) than all other groups. This was equivalent to a 97% reduction compared with the levels of cigarette-only users.
So there is research out there being funded by the right people showing that the level of cancer causing chemicals is much lower than smoking itself.
As for the respiratory side of vaping, although much research is taking place which is finding that there is a difference, the results are negligible as they reflect the effect compared to a non smoker rather than a comparison of smoking vs vaping. However I am sure if you ask any vaper with respiratory history then they can tell you how their lungs have improved since making the switch. Additionally a report to the UK government from MPs including Dr Samantha Walker, Director at Asthma UK published the following;
Rules around e-cigarettes should be relaxed so they can be more widely used and accepted in society, says a report by MPs.
Vaping is much less harmful than normal cigarettes and e-cigarettes should be made available on prescription to help more people quit smoking
I would say that is a pretty big confirmation of the far less risk involved in vaping compared to smoking if Asthma UK are backing it, albeit asking for further research in how it may affect asthma conditions.
Lack of Carcinogens
Another big difference between vaping and smoking comes from the use of carcinogens in the products. This is something you may have read about relating to both, however in all cases the research was performed under conditions not relatable to normal vaping use. How carcinogens act in smoking however makes the two quite polarising. What is a carcinogen you may ask? Well it is a substance that exposure to it can cause cancer. We have established the ingredients of a cigarette but the carcinogens found in cigarettes make it such a dangerous thing to use. At any given time, you are exposing yourself to hundreds potentially different carcinogens when you inhale the smoke. The presence of these in smoking has been proven for decades now so what I want to do is compare that to vaping, see how it differs.
E-cigarette emissions span most of this range with the preponderance of products having potencies<1% of tobacco smoke and falling within two orders of magnitude of a medicinal nicotine inhaler
Optimal combinations of device settings, liquid formulation and vaping behaviour normally result in e-cigarette emissions with much less carcinogenic potency than tobacco smoke
So this research into vaping found that there was at least 99% less carcinogens in vaping when compared to smoking, which is a pretty big finding when it comes to how dangerous the substances are. So we can establish then that vaping does have significantly less cancer causing chemicals than compared to smoking.
So next time you read about smokers and vapers being the ‘same’ then refer them to this article and put them right. It pains me to see this mentioned all around the world and for the sheer amount of bias research and articles out there. Even researching this article I had to trawl through tens of different articles from many different sources that are assuming or loosely contributing false information to the subject. If you spent more than 10 minutes on google you would be convinced that smoking and vaping are the same except as the above information shows, that is certainly not the case. Now for real context, the fact we are inhaling anything voluntarily means there are some small risks involved in vaping, naturally we do not need to do this. Much the same as there are negative effects to nicotine which are widely known, we cannot dismiss that. When you want to look at a fair comparison however, it shows you that we aren’t anything the same when the Department of Public Health England say that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking.