Vaping vs. Smoking: A Lesser of Two Evils?

vaping vs. smoking: Woman vaping outdoors

Is there more merit to picking the lesser of two evils? Or, is it better to stick with the devil you know rather than the one you don’t?

When you think about “vaping,” or inhaling heated water and nicotine vapor (among other chemicals) with an e-cigarette device, could it really be a healthier substitute for smoking?

Using a vape or e-cigarette might be a way to aid those who are trying to quit smoking. The sensation of taking a pull on the vaporizer mimics that of drawing on a cigarette. It also satisfies the oral fixation element that some people seem to miss when trying to quit smoking.

But if there’s any way to look at the two, it’s likely a comparison of a lesser of two evils.

So let’s get down to it, with the help of Dr. Ronald Servi, a pulmonary oncologist at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert, Arizona.

First off, it’s necessary to really examine some of the risks of each—something Dr. Servi urged anyone who believes using e-cigarettes to be safer than smoking should be mindful of.

“We just don’t know what the health risks are yet,” Dr. Servi said.

“There isn’t much out there as far as studies or published journals are concerned. It’s a new habit, and while any habit involving nicotine and tobacco is unhealthy, there isn’t enough out there to say whether it’s more or less healthy than smoking cigarettes. Though I would think it would be less harmful.”

Vaping vs. cigarettes: the chemical breakdown

Research has documented thoroughly the damaging effects of smoking cigarettes. Some 4,000 chemicals are present in the average cigarette. This includes tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic and DDT just to name a few of the usual, most harmful suspects.

However, e-cigarettes don’t exactly come with an ingredients label.

Between manufacturer specifications of the e-cigarette hardware, the potency or flavor of the “e-liquid,” (the nicotine-vapor cocktail that is heated and inhaled) as well as its litany of confirmed and unconfirmed chemicals, particles and agents, researchers have yet to pinpoint exactly how e-cigarettes can affect your health.

E-cigarette users commonly say they inhale and blow out only water, nicotine, and a little bit of glycerin and flavoring in the grey clouds of vapor they emit.

But e-cig users shouldn’t be feeling like they’re on cloud 9 quite yet. Heavy metals have been traced in e-cigarette vapor, including mercury, aluminum, chromium, nickel, tin, silver and cadmium. While it’s true some these metals are even found in the foods we eat and that people can be exposed to them on a near-daily basis, there still isn’t any credible information on what regularly inhaling them can do to the human body over time.

So when it comes to choosing a lesser of two evils between smoking cigarettes versus e-cigarettes, the temptation might be to choose to vape. That could be a step in the right direction if the eventual result leads to quitting nicotine altogether. However, there is no definitive clinical vote for which is a better option for your health.

And if you do smoke or are reliant on nicotine in any way, the benefits of quitting are immediate and beyond comparison.

Smoking cessation resources →
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