Is Vaping Bad for You? A Look at Vaping vs. Smoking

Is vaping bad for you? The answer is that researchers are finding it’s not so harmless after all.

woman vaping

While vaping is not a harmless activity, many experts suggest that it is the lesser of two evils

© Zhyk1988 |

My husband has been on and off cigarettes for as long as I’ve known him. He recently turned to vaping to try to kick the habit. While the smell of strawberry candy and chai tea is certainly more appealing than that of cigarettes, I had some serious doubts about the safety of inhaling such factory-crafted flavors into one’s lungs. Is vaping bad for you? It turns out, my misgivings were not unfounded.

What Is Vaping?

A vaping device, officially known as an electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS), heats a liquid, sometimes called e-juice, until it is a vapor that the user inhales.

There are many varieties of e-juice. The simplest varieties can be made of just two ingredients: vegetable glycerin, which is used in foods, cosmetics, and as a replacement for alcohol in herbal and botanical tinctures, and flavoring.

Other varieties also include:

  • Propylene glycol
  • Nicotine (0% to 2.4%)
  • Distilled water

Nicotine Is Still Harmful, Even When Vaped

People who are trying to quit smoking often begin with the nicotine versions to ease their cravings. But even though the nicotine is not being burned, it is still damaging to lungs, found Irina Petrache, PhD, and colleagues.[1,2] Inhaling nicotine in any form promotes lung inflammation, compromises lung endothelial barrier function, and decreases lung endothelial cell proliferation, her team found.

If You Use a Non-Nicotine Liquid, Why is Vaping Bad for You?

Even the non-nicotine e-juices can be problematic, Dr. Petrache and colleagues found.[1,2] When researchers look closely at what’s in vape liquids, they’ve found a variety of additional substances.

  • Acrolein damages lungs by attacking the molecules that hold endothelial cells together. [1,2]
  • Diethylene glycol, which is an ingredient in antifreeze [3,4]
  • Nitrosamines,[3,4] which are linked to cancer.[6]
  • Potentially toxic carbonyls, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acetone, and butanol.[9] One study found that with vaping, the exposure to formaldehyde is five to 15 times higher than the exposure from smoking cigarettes.[5]
  • Lead, a neurotoxin. [6]
  • Heavy metals and silicates that the liquid picks up from device’s heating element.[7]
  • Further, in vitro research suggests potential cytotoxic effects of e-liquid flavorings.[7]
  • Propylene glycol, a solvent that is best known for its use in fog machines, which can cause eye and lung irritation[7]

Secondhand Smoke vs. Secondhand Vape

Because vaping has a better odor than traditional cigarettes, I’ve noticed the people feel much more comfortable about smoking them indoors or in front of children. It’s hard to think of flavors like waffles and ice cream bring as toxic as smoke, but it’s a false security.

The World Health Organization wants to ban indoor vaping, noting that: “The fact that ENDS exhaled aerosol contains on average lower levels of toxicants than the emissions from combusted tobacco does not mean that these levels are acceptable to involuntarily exposed bystanders.” [8]

“In fact, exhaled aerosol is likely to increase, above background levels, the risk of disease to bystanders, especially in the case of some ENDS that produce toxicant levels in the range of that produced by some cigarettes.”[8]

One study found that vaping worsened indoor air quality by increasing the concentration of nicotine, particulates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and aluminum.[5] The Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority reported that these compounds that have been linked to cancer as well as lung and cardiovascular disease.[5]

But is Vaping Better Than Smoking?

While vaping is not a harmless activity, many experts suggest that it is the lesser of two evils. Although formaldehyde levels are shown to be higher, a study found that some toxic substances have levels 9 to 450 times lower than in regular cigarette smoke.[3]

If you are trying to quit smoking, vaping may be a healthier option in the short-term, but the long-term effects are simply unknown. Instead, consider other smoking-cessation aids, such as NAC, to help you kick your habit. Also check out the smoking cessation ideas here.

Share Your Experience

Have your tried vaping to quit smoking? Have you tried other smoking cessation strategies? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Originally published in 2015, this post is regularly updated.

[1] American Physiological Society. Press release: E-Cigarette Vapor—Even when Nicotine-Free—Found to Damage Lung Cells.
[2] Medscape Internal Medicine. E-Cigs: Is It Safe to Vape?
[3] Reference Committee D. Use of Electronic Cigarettes in Smoking Cessation Programs. Report of the Council on Science and Public Health. CSAPH Report 6-A-10. Accessed Augst 21, 2013.
[4] Huffington Post. Is Vaping Safe? Cancer-Causing Substance ‘Formaldehyde’ Hidden In E-Cigarettes.
[5] Scientific American. E-Cigs and Secondhand Vaping.
[6] Ban Toxic E-Cigarettes Indoors Says World Health Organization.
[7] Environmental Health Perspectives. Vaping and Health: What Do We Know about E-Cigarettes.
[8] The Telegraph.


As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

View all posts by UHN Staff

Comments Comments Policy
  • Regular smokers admit that they dislike the smell of smoke. E-cigarettes create a water based vapor that does not produce a lasting smell, which means that you no longer need worry about having smelly clothes, car interiors, or curtains. Furthermore with vaping you do not have to deal with other nasty side effects that come with smoking such as yellow fingertips, bad skin, tooth discoloration, and an altered sense of taste.

  • I have had emphysema for about five years. I was on oxygen during the day but not at night. I could go about two hours without the oxygen, and then I need it. I had a converter in the house and oxygen tanks for when I go shopping, etc. I am 64 years old and in relatively good health. The doctor said it was caused by a combination of smoking, dust here in Vegas, and 30 years of smog in California. I believed I will always need the oxygen to breathe. I quit smoking 15 years ago. But the damage has been done. January 2017 my pulmonologist and I decided to go with natural treatment and was introduced to Green House Herbal Clinic natural organic Emphysema Herbal formula, i had a total decline of symptoms with this Emphysema Herbal formula treatment. Visit Green House Herbal Clinic official web-site greenhouseherbalclinic. com. The infections, shortness of breath, fatigue, dry cough and other symptoms has subsided.  I am very pleased with this treatment. I breath very well now and exercise regularly, sometimes i totally forget i ever had Emphysema, I am thankful to nature, the medics failed. Share with friends!!

  • 58 year old white male. Smoker, from age 19-49. Social stigma forced me to seek an alternative. Ordered my first ecig unit from China in April 2009. Have not used a standard tobacco cigarette since that date. Family history of heart disease and lung issues. I was experiencing what I thought was the beginning of those issues for me. To date (September 2018, almost 10 years later), I’m still okay. Great activity stamina. No longer wake in the middle of the night, unable to breathe. Just yesterday, I scaled seven flights of stairs in near heroic time. I was only slightly winded when I reached the top. This isn’t a testimony for ecig use, but instead, only my undocumented account of events since stopping traditional tobacco use.

  • Had been smoking since my late teens- not particularly heavy by any means but a smoker non the less….my friends had all stopped a few years ago so thought it would make the move to vaping….glad I did- haven’t smoked a cigarette for about 3 weeks…vaping really works I highly recommend ( although I presume and hope) vaping isn’t as bad to the body !

  • My use of smoking and vaping sit in a very particular space, that of ulcerative colitis. I have no difficulty ceasing smoking but during a colitis flare have used smoking to reduce symptoms when it is especially drug resistant. I don’t like smoking and my son trialed a number of vaping devices to help me find one that worked for my condition. I’ve been using a nicotine salt device for 9 months and up until recently had been doing well. The link between smoking and improvement in colitis symptoms for smokers and ex-smokers is well documented. I hope someone can factor in vaping as it has been a relief to limit the other adverse effects (health, social, quality of life) of actual smoking during this time. I do end up wondering if this recent flare (the worst in 5 years) is due to stopping ‘maintenance smoking’. May have to start again soon but would like to also consider the rest of my body and system beyond my gut.

  • Sure, vaping is less harmful. You can check out the influence on Vapingdaily of it on the immune system and you can be really surprised about it. And after this, you can change your mind or secure it

  • Vaping is better and doesnt contain any ingerdients that are in antifreeze do your research on the vape fluid you are using. Any good vape shop will not sell fluid that contains this chem

  • I felt like this article didn’t really have anything to say. Yeah, I want to know the health difference between smoking and vaping, especially the recovery of sinuses when you switch. The studies referred seems to be the general state of “let’s hook an e-cig to machine that vapes until your coil burns out and let’s continue to add formaldehydes”. I think we need a little bit better articles.

  • I love that this article uses ‘The Huffington Post’ as a citation hahahaha. Such credability in where this lady has done her research. This is purely an opinion piece that she has cited places that back her up and then the last paragraph compltely goes against her original point. Rather amusing.

  • I used to chew tobacco, and being the Southerner that I am, I swore to myself I’d never vape or anything like that. However, in 2018, at 22, I saw how bad my teeth were getting and wanted something new, plus the heartburn from loose leaf was awful. My friends at my job suggested vaping. I have for going on a year now, and my suggestion? Don’t get a nicotine habit if you don’t have one.

  • I am with my school newspaper, and I have a story due about the risks of vaping. I need a source that can tell me about why teens have started vaping. Does anyone have any recommendations?

  • Vaping literally saved my life! Sorry, I get it about it not being as healthy as quitting altogether, but really. Really! If you are addicted, and have tried various other means to save your life, this is it. You know, they finally come out with something that will help us addicts cope with one of the worse addictions, & now, because they cannot figure out not to sell the stuff to minors (oh yeah like they do with regular cigarettes & booze), they rush to ban or knock it. All has to do with money

  • I never thought I would quit smoking. I tried and failed, using every smoking cessation tool out there. They are all lousy. Only non-smokers seem to think they’re going to work.
    When e-cigs came out, I tried them but still expected to smoke cigarettes most of the time. In a week or so, I preferred the vaporizer to cigarettes. Now 5-8 years later (I didn’t note the date-didn’t expect any big change at the time), I haven’t had a cigarette and have no desire for one.
    I no longer have the lung congestion or smoker’s cough. I am thankful for e-cigs.

  • I have been buying the Blu and Jule e cigs with refill pods. It has been over about 4 months now without smoking a cigarette. I was up to about half a pack per day for 16 years.

  • This article is false! None of these ingredients are in vape juice. It has no second hand affect except for the nicotine. I smoked almost two packs of cigarettes a day and was coughing bad in the morning. I went to vaping and coughed when doing it but it was cleaning my lungs and coughing up the tar from all the cigarettes I smoked in the past. Been vaping for four months now and no more coughing or wheezing and it even lowered my blood pressure. If you want to quit smoking go to vaping and just lower your nicotine levels and quit vaping. The hardest thing about vaping is finding a flavor you like and stay away from menthol flavored juice at first because they are to harsh on the throat. I was a kool smoker and went with a menthol and almost went back to smoking because of it. I vape a blue raspberry hard candy and feel 100% better. I save about $100 a week and more energy

  • I used a small vape to quit smoking. I began with 6% nicotine, after 3 months reduced it to 3%, and after 3 more months reduced it to 0%. I found vaping at the 0% lasted about a month. I began to forget about the desire to “inhale/exhale”, which every smoker claims is what they like about smoking. I’ve been vape and smoke free for 2 years and vape free for 18 months. I used it to quit and it worked for me.

  • I had been smoking around a pack a day for overy 13 years. Never thought I would be able to quit.. tried everything never made it more than 9 days without a cigarette. Thought about trying to quit via vaping for a while but never thought it was for me.. couple months ago I tried it and it was the best decision I could have made.. at first I was still smoking as well but within a couple weeks I just stopped buying cigarettes and didn’t even think about it. I feel 100 times better then I did when smoking.. way more energy and no more cough. No one shold vape if they don’t already smoke but for smokers it is an effective way to quit.

  • I smoke from the age of 18 until 52 years of age. One pack per day, if drinking two. 23 Jan 2015 I stopped smoking and just vaped after two month of doing both. 6 May 2016 I gave up vape too just before a long haul flight back from USA to UK. I was starting to cough much more on vapes than I ever did on regular smoking. Sticky phlegm was a regular in the morning and I was concerned it was filling my lungs and not breaking down. In Sep 19 I still bring up the discharge but it is now less often and looks clear. In the past it looked more infected. No doubt vapes helped me quit but less harmful? Time will prove. Good luck on your journey.

  • I quit smoking in 2010 by using Aeros. It’s a nicotine delivery system that is vaporless and smokeless. I had been a 40 year smoker but never over a pack a day. I was forced to go off Aeros after about 4 years when the company was sold and they were no longer produced. It was slightly painful but not nearly as bad as going off regular cigarettes cold turkey. This was about my third try to quit smoking and I am so glad it worked. Prior attempts through nicotine patches and oral prescriptions and OTC nicotine lozenges and gum.

  • Although vaping may not be *completely * harmless, it is vastly preferable to cigarette smoking. And if vaping outdoors, not harmful to others. I don’t use a device which gives off clouds of vapour, but a small, discrete unit to provide me with a small, discrete amount of nicotine occasionally. There is no residual odour, clothes and hair do not drink, my breathing and lung capacity have greatly improved (to the point where I can run for 2 or more blocks without getting winded), and vaping finally allowed me to “kick the habit”. It has kept me cigarette free for almost 3 years, and I know I will never return to cigarettes.

    The government bodies, lobbyists, and politicians should concentrate efforts to keep tabs on the ecigarette and vaping companies’ marketing to children, as they finally did with the tobacco companies. That doesn’t mean banning flavoured e liquids or vaping (counterproductive), but rather using their money, efforts and influence to ensure these companies abide by the same requirements that regulate the sale of alcohol and tobacco to minors.

    Let’s not get over zealous about the regulations on vaping. It has helped improve *my* quality of life enormously. And let’s not kid ourselves — it’s so much better than cigarette smoking that I’m honestly not convinced what the fuss is all about, and more importantly, exactly *where* this fuss is coming from.

    All of this has been my opinion only, but thanks for reading just the same.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Enter Your Login Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.