Health Effects of Vaping vs. Smoking

Welcome to our first Knowledge is Power Blog edition. Today we will be discussing the health effects of vaping vs. smoking, and vaping in public places. There is a lot of information, much of it conflicting about the health effects of vaping and 2nd hand vape. Let’s look at the concerns and what the leading researchers in the field are saying in response.

One of the main things we are being told about e-cigarette use is from the FDA and WHO (World Health Organization). On 8/11/14, the FDA posted on their website*,  E-Cigarettes have not been fully studied so consumers don’t know the potential risks…how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled….whether there are any benefits..” While Armando Peruga, the Programme Manager of the Tobacco Free Initiative with WHO, has stated Health risks of electronic cigarettes, first, Nicotine is highly addictive….they contain chemicals and usually a few cancer causing agents.” in a YouTube video titled WHO: New WHO report on e-cigarettes. Both the FDA and WHO have also stated there is insignificant evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in the effort to quit smoking.

Independent agencies, however, have conducted non-biased studies regarding the health risks of electronic cigarettes. One study was conducted by Dr.Igor Burstyn, PhD, School of Public Health, Drexel University who published an article Peering Through the Mist: Systematic Review of what the Chemistry of Contaminants in Electronic Cigarettes Tells Us about Health Risks. Summarized, Dr. Burstyn conducted a systematic review of 35 chemical toxicity studies/technical reports of electronic cigarette liquids and vapors. He is quoted in this study stating “[there is] no evidence of levels of contaminants that may be associated with risk to health. This includes acrolein, formaldehyde, TSNAs and metals. Concerns about contamination of the liquid by a non trivial quantity of ethylene glycol or diethylene glycol remains confined to a single sample of an early technology product and has not been replicated.” Meaning, there were no cancer causing agents found outside of one sample from an outdated cigalike. Interestingly enough, these are the same contaminants noted by the FDA in their report and the basis of the WHO claims. So, why are these two findings so vastly different? Dr. Lynne Dawkins, Experimental Psychologist and leader of the Drugs and Addictive Behaviours Research Group at the University of East London has been specializing in smoking research for over 20 years and is one of the UK’s leading authorities on e-cigarettes. She may have answered that question. In a published public lecture titled What We Know So Far she stated We are looking at a rapidly evolving industry here and randomised controlled trials are very time consuming, so it’s likely that by the time the results are published the device that was used may not currently be available or is not what is currently being used. So the findings become outdated quite quickly.”

After researching, we discovered that the cigalike used in the FDA testing was a 3 piece sold between 2009 and 2010, and is no longer on the market. So we have discovered that the “harmful” chemicals mentioned by the FDA and referenced by WHO were only present in one type of cigalike that is no longer on the market, and according to Dr. Burstyn’s study, the finding of that harmful chemical hasn’t been replicated since.

Another argument posed by the FDA and WHO is that users of e-cigs don’t really know what’s in the vapor, and the effect it would have on non-users with 2nd hand vapor. A test was conducted recently at Queen Mary University in London, overseen by Professor Peter Hayek. A participant’s breath was tested for a baseline carbon monoxide and toxicant levels prior to any smoking or vaping. The participant then vaped an e-cig, and his carbon monoxide and toxicant levels were tested again, and the results were no different than his baseline results prior to smoking. He then smoked an analog cigarette, and no surprise here, his carbon monoxide and toxicant levels went up by 150%. Another experiment was conducted by Maciej Goniewicz, a cancer researcher in the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, on the effects of breathing in vapor vs. cigarette smoke on a person in a closed environment. Dr. Goniewicz’s experiment concluded that nicotine levels from e-cigarettes were ten times lower than cigarette smoke. E-cigarettes also produced some particulate matter, but regular cigarettes produced about seven times more….. We found non-users of e-cigarettes might be exposed to nicotine but not too many toxicants when they are in close proximity to e-cigarette users. said Goniewicz. Robert West, UK’s leading addiction expert stated It’s not dangerous to be near someone who is smoking an electronic cigarette….. I can understand people wanting to be cautious, but if we fail to take this opportunity that electronic cigarettes potentially are providing, then we are really condemning people to death, that would otherwise have lived. That’s really what’s at stake.” in an interview with BBC News**.

Finally, we come to the last argument from the FDA and WHO, is Nicotine really bad for you?

Professor Peter Hayek, in an interview with BBC News** says “Many people out there think that Nicotine itself is a dangerous poison, but if nicotine is taken without the accompanying toxicants than the health effects would be very similar to drinking coffee”.  This statement is reinforced by Dr. Carl V. Phillips independent research institute. Their website regarding tobacco harm reduction*** states “The effects of nicotine itself are similar to that other popular drug, caffeine.There is no evidence that nicotine causes any substantial risk for cancer, and the research shows that the risk for cardiovascular disease is minimal. The confusion about nicotine comes from anti-smoking activists talking about nicotine and smoking as if they were the same. While it is true that people smoke mostly because of nicotine; nicotine users die mostly because of the smoke.”

We believe the best summary of health issues related to vaping vs. smoking right now is this quote from Dr. Lynne Dawkins that can be seen in the YouTube video We should encourage smokers to try E-cigs – Dr Lynne Dawkins. She states, “I consider these (e-cigarettes) to be an attractive, low risk alternative to smoking….I say low risk, I do not absolutely mean risk free, but in contrast to cigarette smoking, the current evidence suggests they are much, much safer……About 82,000 people a year die, just in England as a consequence of their smoking….. Not because of their nicotine use, but as a consequence of their smoking.”

Basically, there is nothing in life that can be classified as 100% safe. The comparison that we need to keep in mind here is, are electronic cigarettes safer than the alternative, smoking cigarettes? So, what are your thoughts?  When researching, be sure to always check the source of the information you are being told. We have linked the BBC interview where both Professor Peter Hayek and Robert West are featured sharing their views, as well as the other sources we used for this blog. Have you found additional information that confirms or conflicts with the information given here? Let us know what you know and what you think! And be sure to check back in next week when we look at the idea of vaping as a smoking cessation tool.


**BBC Youtube – Are Electronic Cigarette’s Safe

***Tobacco Harm Reduction: Nicotine

Tim Mechling

Tim is Mt Baker Vapor's resident creative weirdo. He writes, composes music, draws, designs, produces podcasts, investigates, and blows the trumpet for the Common Man.

  • Jerry says:

    I asked friends who had vaped and then reverted back to cigarettes what foiled their plan. Broken device and availability of eLiquids was the most common. So I ordered a starter kit from Mt. Baker Vapor, with tobacco flavored eLiquid to start to ease the transision, as I loved the flavor of tobacco. Now, over 30 days have passed and I’m still tobacco free, whereas the patch and gum failed miserably. I helped to inspire two friends to switch over to vaping completely. And that’s the point here, vapers can effectively plan a smoking cessation plan and will quickly find they cannot go back to the flavor of burning tobacco. Thanks to Mt. Baker Vapor for throwing in a fruit flavor, as I quickly evolved into appreciating a flavor canvas. Oh, and I stay away from cigalikes and use only US formulated and sourced eLiquids. I feel safer and healthier, even without the FDA. As always, THANKS Mt. Baker Vapor!

  • Mark S says:

    As vapers facing public scrutiny, we need to exercise common sense. As a 40 year smoker, who’s now smoke free (thanks to vaping) for two years, I will not vape in any public place unless it’s actually encouraged (like a vape shop). I fugu that though Tuscan tobacco, or waffles might smell great to me, there’s a good chance that it’s going to annoy someone – especially in a restaurant. I’ll concede that if I’m alone in the hammer aisle at Home Depot, I might sneak a quick vape, but otherwise, I really never vape indoors in public. Outdoors, with some space between me and others, yes.

    • Kris Ringler says:

      That’s good judgement! Whenever I vape, I just try and be as considerate as possible, especially since I like to blow clouds. I try to not annoy people with the excessive amount of vapor that I like to exhale. Thank you for being a considerate vaper! It always bums me out when I see people vaping rudely and not thinking about the people surrounding them.

  • Samantha Hofmann says:

    I use the “if other people can smoke here, I can vape here” rule of thumb. Smoking bars, outdoors. Not at my kid’s school, not outside of hospitals. Also, just as I wouldn’t blow a cloud of smoke in someone’s face, neither do I blow a cloud of vape towards someone.

    • These are all wonderful vaping etiquette rules to follow! Just one thing to make sure is to stay as far away from the smokers section as possible, last thing you would want is to be affected by second-hand smoke from cigarettes. We try as a vaping industry to not lump ourselves with smokers, even on Navy ships, they have separate decks for vapers and smokers! Keep up the amazing etiquette and setting forth a good example for others that vape! Thank you! 🙂

  • Flory says:

    Thank you for the information, it really helps. I am in the Navu and now I’m excited to go on a ship hoping there is a vape section

  • Gai Strickland says:

    I quit smoking 6 months but still craving cigarettes so is vaping safer

  • Linda Smith says:

    I stopped smoking about 3 years ago and started vaping I will be 3 years in June 2016 free from cigarettes, I feel much better I breathe easier, I can taste food again and I don’t smell from the nasty cigarettes. My doctor is very proud of me. I am in a healthier state than I was 3 years ago. I would also like to add one more comment to this. Cigarettes are known for it’s cancer causing chemicals and now the big Tobacco Companies are worried about losing revenue because people are finding out about e-cigarettes; which by the way you spend a lot less on vaping supplies than cigarettes, even some of the electronic cigarettes are owned by a few big tobacco companies so of course they are going to lobby against all of us vapors which is very unfair, vapor is 99% safer than the killing smoke from cigarettes which is so harmful to the people who smoke and the ones who don’t. Thank you for listening to me go on and on however, I feel very strongly about promoting better health for all. I smoked for 33 years and with e-cigarettes the nicotine you cut down as you go I started at 18% nicotine and now at 6% you can’t do that with regular tobacco cigarettes.
    Thank you, Mt. Baker Vapor for giving us more freedom and choices.

  • Holly says:

    I switched to vape with out any cigarette with drawls I’ve smoked a pack a day since I was 15 now 34 and recently a made single mum of 2 little girls gum , patch , inhalers nothing stick always reverted back bought a vape cigarette free for 3 months and slowly lowering my nicotine level it works so well for me I’m thank ful for the alternative and hope to be completely nicotine free by November 1st at which point I will no longer vape wish me luck they say it isn’t a cessation program but for me it worked way better then anything else I haven’t craved a tobacco cigarette since even around my smoking friends … this is a first ever no nic fit no irritability whoo hoo

  • Patricia Siegfried says:

    July 11, 2017 is the day I smoked my last cigarette. I started vaping. I’ve smoked off and on for 35 years. I have no craving, urge or want to go back to smoking cigarettes. Yesterday I joined my daughter with a baby & me plan. She gets free diapers for a year if she remains tobacco free. (She too quit smoking by vaping). At her appointment we both had to do a carbon monoxide test. A breathalyzer. The lady said they considered smoking & vaping the same & that it still produces carbon monoxide in the body. She said if you blew 0-6 you are considered a non smoker. My daughter blew a 3. She was a half a pack a day smoker. I blew a 2!! I was a pack and a half a day smoker & more sometimes. I do believe she is wrong! The only way I was able to quit smoking this time around was by vaping. Patches, gum, quit line, nothing worked. I’m at 3 mg nicotine per ml & I don’t vape as much as I smoked. It’s amazing. I am proof that vaping is a good way to stop cigarettes. At some point I will put the vape down too but for now, I feel great!

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