We have known for decades that smoking cigarettes is one of the biggest dangers to public health around the world. The British Medical Journal has described the cigarette as “the deadliest artefact in the history of human civilisation”.
As vaping continues to grow in popularity around the world – with estimates indicating that there could be 55 million adults using electronic cigarettes by 2021 – are there any benefits of vaping versus smoking? In this article, we will compare vaping and smoking facts across a number of categories to try and establish if vaping is better for you – and if so, to what extent the benefits of vaping can improve your life.
When were the negative health effects of smoking first exposed?
It may seem difficult to imagine now, but there was a time when smoking was romanticised and the health risks were either downplayed or marginalised altogether. Even in 1960 – following a decade of reports and research which demonstrated the negative consequences of smoking – only one-third of doctors in the United States believed the case against cigarettes had been established.
Public perception on the subject has since evolved. In Western society, a smaller proportion of people are now smoking cigarettes (according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection, in 1965, 41.9% of the US adult population smoked; in 2015, this had reduced to 15.3%). Yet smoking still accounts for nearly 80,000 deaths each year in England alone, and one in two smokers will die from a smoking-related illness.
How does smoking cigarettes affect your health?
There have been numerous studies on the negative impact of cigarettes, with growing evidence that the harm can be widespread. The harmful effects on each part of the body are as follows:
Smoking causes 84% of deaths from lung cancer, and increases the potential for other fatal diseases such as pneumonia and emphysema.
Smoking weakens the heart and increases the risk of heart attacks and heart disease, in addition to the damaging effects on blood circulation throughout the body.
The risk of a stroke is increased by at least 50% as a result of smoking, as well as an increased chance of developing an aneurysm.
Skin, bones and reproductivity
Smoking reduces the oxygen available to reach your skin and can cause your bones to become brittle and weak. Smoking while pregnant can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and illness – and have a harmful effect on the foetus. Up to 120,000 men in their twenties and thirties are impotent as a direct result of smoking.
Is vaping safer than smoking cigarettes?
Although a relatively new technology, there have been a significant number of studies and research papers published on the health benefits of vaping vs. smoking. It is likely that more research will be conducted in the coming years to establish any long-term effects of vaping.
Public Health England (PHE) published an independent e-cigarette evidence review in February 2018, addressing vaping use in England and providing guidance on the risks to health. The review found that e-cigarettes “pose only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits”, with vaping at least 95% less harmful than smoking.
The PHE review also recommended that local ‘stop smoking’ services and healthcare professionals should support the use of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool, and NHS Trusts should ensure vaping products are made available for sale in hospital shops.
However, evidence in the United States is less certain on the long-term health impacts of vaping. . The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published a January 2018 report which confirmed that “across a range of studies and outcomes, e-cigarettes appear to pose less risk to an individual than combustible tobacco cigarettes”, whilst also stating that the “implications for long-term effects on morbidity and mortality are not yet clear.”
Is vaping bad for lungs?
As referenced previously, smoking cigarettes contributes to the majority of deaths from lung cancer, as well as having a detrimental impact on breathing and overall quality of life. Some articles on vaping make reference to ‘popcorn lung’ – a type of lung disease, although not cancerous – as a danger of vaping.
There have been no reported cases in the United Kingdom of popcorn lung as a direct result of using e-cigarettes. This concern originated due to the inclusion of diacetyl in some e-cigarette flavours in the past, albeit at a level hundreds of times lower than in cigarette smoke. In the UK, diacetyl is now banned as an ingredient in e-cigarette and e-liquids.
Does vaping lead to smoking?
Some sceptics believe one of the main dangers of vaping is that it essentially acts as a gateway to conventional cigarettes. Several American studies and publications have expressed the view that e-cigarettes could influence younger people to take up smoking or re-normalise previous smoking behaviours.
However, the PHE review of 2018 contradicts these arguments in unequivocal terms, stating that, “evidence does not support the concern that e-cigarettes are a route into smoking among young people (youth smoking rates in the UK continue to decline, regular use is rare and is almost entirely confined to those who have smoked).”
Can vaping help you stop smoking?
There is data available to suggest that using e-cigarettes can aid with stopping smoking altogether. A February 2019 evidence update from Public Health England states that, “using an EC [e-cigarette] as part of [a] quit attempt continues to be helpful for people attending stop smoking services in England.”
Smoking cessation continues to be a powerful motivating factor for those who start vaping, according to figures produced by the Office for National Statistics. These figures show that almost half of those vaping (48.8%) said they used e-cigarettes as an aid to stop smoking, with 29.2% saying they started because of the perception that vaping is less harmful than smoking.
An article published on Harvard Health in February 2019 concluded that, “While…concerns about vaping are appropriate (especially regarding use among youth), this study demonstrates that it could help people quit smoking.”
Aside from the health implications of vaping vs. smoking, there are also other considerations to take into account. Smoking is known to be costly, especially with ever-increasing taxation on tobacco products, but how does vaping compare?
Is it cheaper to vape?
Smoking is an expensive habit, irrespective of where you live. Data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in the United States shows the average cost of a packet of cigarettes is $6.28 – meaning that a pack-a-day habit will cost almost $2,300 annually. The cost is even higher in the UK, with data from ASH Scotland (Action on Smoking and Health) calculating that the cost to a smoker is almost £3,000 per year.
Analysis from NerdWallet shows that using e-cigarettes is much cheaper than smoking cigarettes. Disposable vapes and rechargeable kits were both found to be significantly less expensive than smoking cigarettes on a like-for-like basis.
How popular is vaping vs. smoking?
As a general trend, the use of e-cigarettes is increasing as the number of smokers is decreasing. Although there are still several more smokers in the UK than vapers, the gap narrows with each passing year, as demonstrated by the following facts:
- In Great Britain, there are currently 2.8 million vapers, and nearly one in five Brits have tried an e-cigarette.
- Between 2010 and 2016, smoking prevalence in the UK fell by over six percent for 18-24 year olds.
- Across the UK, smoking prevalence has fallen from 24.2% in 2007 to 14.9% as of February 2019.
- Almost one in twenty American adults now use e-cigarettes.
- Polish respondents to an Ernst & Young survey said their main reason for using e-cigarettes was the range of flavours and nicotine levels available.
More vaping and smoking facts are available on our recent post on the topic.
The studies conducted on smoking have been numerous, and all point to the same conclusion – smoking is bad for your short-term and long-term health, with a significantly increased risk of a chronic, debilitating and fatal illness as a result. It is also an expensive habit to maintain. These factors have all contributed to a declining social acceptance of smoking in recent decades.
Vaping is growing in popularity, particularly due to its use as a smoking cessation tool and the assertion from Public Health England that it is 95% less harmful than smoking cigarettes. The financial cost of vaping is also considerably less. Although the e-cigarette industry in still in its relative infancy, there is a clear need for more research to be carried out on the long-term effects of vaping, although it would seem unlikely at this stage that any new findings would eclipse cigarettes as “the deadliest artefact in the history of human civilisation.”