The differences and health benefits between smoking and vaping may be obvious: one is clearly bad for you, the other, according to Public Health England’s latest e-cig evidence review, likely a much less harmful alternative.
But, is it that simple?
What is happening to the chemical reactions in your brain when you decide to drag on a cigarette, rather than vape? Are cigarettes worse for than environment than vapes? Is it more fun to blow vapour or smoke?
Smoking vs Vaping
Cigarettes, as we know them today, have existed since 1865. In those days, and in the hundred years from then, cigarettes were used as a method to deal with stress and anxiety. And while it is true, to an extent, that smoking relieves stress, we now know that it also increases stress over the long term.
The cycle of smoking involves feeling stressed, lighting-up and then stress dissipating with the inhalation of nicotine. However, the more frequently we smoke, the quicker and worse the stress returns to us, requiring another cigarette, and so on. In fact, the more stressful a situation (where the levels of the hormone cortisol are raised), the more a smoker depends on that next cigarette.
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that the dangerous chemicals in vapes, like nitrosamines (a cancer-causing chemical compound found in cigarettes) are below the limit of detection.
The SmokeFreeBrain Study shows that the behavioural benefits of vaping over smoking include: less social anxiety, better sleep, and increased brain function. We should also remember that we don’t smell when coming back to the table from a vape rather than a smoke.
And the Public Health England (part of the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK) estimates that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking.
Cigarettes and Vapes
The outside of the traditional cigarette is composed of a poly-tissue filter on which is stacked “tobacco”, surrounded by paper (“tobacco” in the un-purest sense of the word).
The cigarette, then, is not just harmful to the inside of us, but to the outside world as a whole. In 2010, it was estimated that nearly five trillion cigarette butts are littered on the ground throughout the world. The filters are non-biodegradable and, in such large numbers, cause irrevocable harm to the environment; the same study on littering found that metal from the smoked butts leaches into the ground in around a month, causing damage to local flora and fauna.
Although vapes (or e-cigarettes) come in all shapes and sizes, the ultimate make-up of them consists of plastic. And though we all know plastic isn’t ideal for the environment, it is recyclable, and vapes are not thrown-away nearly as much as your average cigarette.
The e-liquid of the vape may or not have nicotine (depending on the preference of the vaper) and the liquid is completely used up in the process of vaping.
For us, and for the environment, it seems that vaping is the better choice for the planet.
Smoke vs Vapour
For those of us that are old enough, we can remember going into restaurants and bars and immediately being hit with the stench and sting of the cigarette smoke hovering just above head-height. We might also remember how, after the banning of smoking indoors, those same restaurants and bars had the bitter smell of smoke lingering for months-on-end.
And though some of us might not be partial to the more than 8,000 flavours (as of 2014) of flavoured e liquid, the cooling cloud and rich smells are a much-preferred alternative to the heavy and sticky cigarette smoke.
We’ve also not talked about the obvious and most well-known side-effects of cigarette smoke, which is second-hand smoke. The National Cancer Institute in the United States reports that 3,000 people die of second-hand smoke per year in the US. This would’ve been more when smoking indoors was socially acceptable.
Another research team, whose findings were published in the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, showed that the risk of being exposed to (potential) nitrosamines in the aerosol from vapour is far lower than from cigarette smoke. This is because of the lower temperatures used in producing vapour compared to producing smoke (i.e. through combustion).
Finally, we can’t forget the somewhat cool appeal of what a lot of vapers unintentionally (or some, intentionally) get into when they start vaping… “cloud chasing”. This is the art of trying to get the maximum amount of vapour from your vape. It is now even at the point where there are regular competitions and proponents will seek out the best parts to get maximum cloud production. It can be pretty cool.
We all know that smoking causes cancer and other health concerns, like the dreaded smoker’s cough.
And now we’ve seen, in a world where vaping exists alongside smoking, that the benefits of vaping over smoking are not only about our health and the health of those closest to us, they’re about being more socially responsible, aware, and active. It’s about having fun in a safe way with your choice. It’s about being environmentally friendly.
In the choice between smoking and vaping, it is clear that it is not just about our health… it’s about our future.