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Is vaping safer than smoking?

“Lots of my friends are now vaping at parties and they say that it’s not dangerous. They keep telling me that vaping is safer than smoking. Is that true?”

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol, often referred to as vapour, which is produced by an e-cigarette. E-cigarettes have not been around for very long, the first being developed by a Chinese pharmacist in 2003, so as a result we know little about the long-term harms associated with vaping. One of the greatest risks associated with the use of tobacco is the smoke produced by burning. This smoke contains many dangerous chemicals. E-cigarettes do not produce the tar produced by regular cigarette smoking, which is the main cause of lung cancer and they have therefore been promoted as a ‘safer alternative’ for smokers.

Although the use of e-cigarettes may expose users to fewer toxic chemicals than conventional smoking, there is no evidence to support that vaping is ‘safe’, i.e., they are not completely risk-free. Much more research has to be conducted in this area but recent studies have found that repeated exposure to e-cigarette vapour could pose a substantial risk of lung disease and damage. The inhaled vapour can inflame the lung tissue and expose users to formaldehyde and heavy metals, which are linked to cancer and other diseases.

Those who do choose to vape should remember that we knew very little about the dangers of smoking for a very long time. Until very recently cigarettes were heavily promoted and marketed as part of a glamorous and luxurious lifestyle. In fact, they were once promoted by doctors in advertising campaigns. Little is known about the health impacts of vaping, particularly in the long-term, and based on our experience with smoking and what we know now we should be cautious when we look at how they are being sold to the public.

We do not know enough about e-cigarettes to say that they are a ‘safe’ alternative to cigarette smoking and there is evidence that they may pose a potential health hazard not only to the user but to others around them. It may be true that vaping is ‘safer’ than smoking but not vaping at all is ‘safer’ than vaping.

First published: May 2020

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