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Is Vaping Worse Than Smoking?

January 08, 2024

Vaping offers a safe alternative to smoking for people looking to make a change. Or does it? “I don't want to say one is better or worse,” says Steven Thau, MD, the division chief of Pulmonary Medicine at Hartford HealthCare Medical Group. “However, vaping has a greater chance of causing short-term and medium-term damage than cigarettes.” Here's why vaping might do more harm than good, and why you might want to think about quitting. [insert-cta-small id=52533]

We know that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health.

It's not news that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. “Cigarettes affect every organ in the body,” says Dr. Thau. “It damages any place where oxygen has to go.” Smoking cigarettes harms your lungs, heart, kidneys, liver and muscles. “It causes rapid deterioration of brain function and increases the risk of stroke, cancer, inflammatory disorders and other neurodegenerative conditions,” adds Dr. Thau.

But vaping might actually be worse for your lungs.

Initially, e-cigarettes were supposed to be a better solution. Many people assumed this was a safer way to smoke. “Because of the chemical composition, vaping is similar to inhaling an acetylene welding torch,” explains Dr. Thau. “To make it more palatable, they add other chemicals. But the more stuff that goes into the vape, the more likely it is to be toxic.” This includes vitamin E acetate, an ingredient the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says may contribute to the rise of deadly lung disease linked to vaping. > Related: Will Recreational Marijuana Cause an Increase in Lung Cancer?

The fuel is more of an issue than the nicotine.

“Just like oil and water don’t mix, oil and lungs don’t mix either,” says Dr. Thau. “If you’re using some kind of fuel or hydrocarbon to ignite the vape, that's going to cause a problem in the lungs. It’s not so much the nicotine that’s the primary issue. It’s the combination of the heat and the ingredients.” And the damage may not just be contained to your lungs. “There is biological plausibility that if more of these particles enter the lungs and therefore enter the bloodstream, it will go to every organ in the body,” explains Dr. Thau. “There will be more problems. The more you do it, the more you will lose.”

3 reasons vapes might be more addictive than cigarettes.

Dr. Thau calls out a few ways vaping can be more addictive than cigarettes:
  1. The chemical composition offers a bigger hit, and nicotine is more easily absorbed.
  2. The flavors are intentionally addictive.
  3. The convenience of vaping allows people to use their vape pens anywhere and more often – creating a deeper dependency.
“Manufacturers opted to make vaping more addictive,” says Dr. Thau. “There is no way this will be good for the lungs.” Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

Young people are at higher risk of addiction and lung damage.

The CDC also shares that e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among youth since 2014. “Vaping can really destroy the lungs while you're still a teenager or in your 20s,” says Dr. Thau. “Tell me which 18 or 25-year-old wants to be on a transplant list for new lungs. We should not be playing roulette with young lives.”

Quitting is hard, but possible.

While Dr. Thau acknowledges the best way to avoid problems is not to start smoking or vaping in the first place, he commends anyone who wants to stop. “Everyone will have a different reason to quit, but no one can make them do it,” explains Dr. Thau. “If you want it to happen, find any port in the storm. It doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't matter if you use a nicotine patch, nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges, hypnotism, acupuncture, cinnamon sticks or tobacco cessation programs.”

The time to act is now.

“We don’t have the lungs to donate to all the people who are going to need it,” says Dr. Thau. “If you’re waiting until the book's last chapter to see how it ends, you’ve waited too long.”

Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute