Is Vaping Safer than Normal Smoking?

August 21, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Cathie Ann Mancuso, M.D. contributes to topics such as Internal Medicine.

Opal Thakar, M.D. contributes to topics such as Blood Pressure, Cardiac / Heart Health, Diabetes.

Sapna Rama, D.O. contributes to topics such as Internal Medicine.

A trend has swept across the country over the past few years: the use of electronic cigarettes, or “vaping.” Marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes and with more than 7,000 flavors available, an increasing number of Americans—especially teens—are picking up the vaping habit. But is it really healthier than traditional smoking?

The short answer: No.

“While you may not be inhaling the tar associated with regular cigarettes, vaping introduces a new set of potentially damaging hazards,” says Sapna Rama, D.O., a board-certified internal medicine physician. “Certain ingredients in e-cigarettes can cause major damage to lung tissue. In addition to damaging lung tissue, e-cigarette devices have also been reported to cause burns, explosive injuries and chemical injuries.”

The U.S. Surgeon General agrees, listing several ingredients and additives that could be harmful to your body:

  • Ultrafine particles that you can inhale deep into your lungs
  • Flavorants, like diacetyl, which can contribute to severe lung issues
  • Heavy metals like tin, lead and nickel, which can cause poisoning
  • Nicotine, the extremely addictive main ingredient that is linked to heart disease

What Does the Research Say?

While research is still being conducted on the effects of using e-cigarettes, several studies have shown troubling results. One 2016 study published in the journal Thorax showed that mice who had extended exposure to electronic cigarette vapor developed symptoms similar to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Another recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that mice exposed to e-cigarette vapor had damaged DNA in the lungs, heart and bladder, which can potentially lead to the development of a variety of cancers. Other side effects include nosebleeds, irritability or loss of flavor perception.

“There will be more research done in the future on the effects of e-cigarettes—but vaping is not healthier than smoking,” says Opal Thakar, M.D., a board-certified family medicine physician. “But in the meantime, we know already that smoking of any kind is detrimental to your health.”

How to Quit

Fortunately, there are safe ways to help you stop smoking both cigarettes and e-cigarettes. These include prescription nicotine inhalers or nasal sprays and over-the-counter options like nicotine patches, gum or lozenges. Because nicotine has its own deleterious effects, your doctor can help slowly reduce your intake until you are off nicotine for good. There are also non-nicotine medications that can be prescribed, like Zyban or Chantix.

Cathie-Ann Mancuso, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician, says to talk openly with your doctor to find the best options for you.

“Obviously, it would be ideal to stop using nicotine altogether, but stopping ‘cold turkey’ isn’t for everyone,” says Dr. Mancuso. “Rest assured that there are plenty of replacement aids and helpful resources available to you.”

Other effective techniques to try while quitting include:

  • Exercising or performing a physical activity every time you get an urge to smoke
  • Delaying your response to cravings. Tell yourself to wait 10 minutes and find an engaging activity to distract your brain.
  • Practicing yoga or meditation to help relax
  • Talking to professionals or attend group sessions with others who are quitting

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.