What the Health: What is the difference between smoking and vaping?

21 Jun 2022

It is a common misconception that smoking and vaping are the same. Although both methods deliver nicotine, there are subtle differences between vaping and smoking. In smoking, tobacco is burned to release the nicotine in the tobacco leaf. Vaping, on the other hand, does not involve combustion. When a person vapes, the e-liquids in an ‘e-cigarette’ are heated below the point of combustion to release vapour for inhalation.

Is vaping safer than smoking? 

Since there is no combustion, vaping is generally thought to be a safer alternative to smoking. However, the base ingredients in e-liquid also contain propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and flavouring. Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin maybe non-toxic when ingested orally but long-term data on the safety profile of vaping is yet to determined.

E-cigarettes were also increasingly being used to vape cannabis. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported a sharp rise in ‘e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury’ (EVALI) which had seen more than 2800 hospitalized cases and 68 deaths, attributable to black-market cannabis e-liquids that were adulterated by Vitamin E Acetate.

Smoking and vaping trends in Australia 

In Australia, many people reduced their smoking or made other changes in their smoking behaviour in response to increasing cigarette prices and extensive smoke-free policies. There were 11.6% Australian adults who smoked daily in 2019 (a decrease of 25% since 1991), which made us one of the countries with the lowest daily smoking rates among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. In contrast, the current use of an e-cigarette has increased from 1.2% in 2016 to 2.6% in 2019. The most significant increases were observed among young people.

Why is vaping popular among young people?

In the USA, the most reported reasons for trying e-cigarettes among young people were curiosity, the perception that e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes, and palatable flavours of e-liquids. Some of the e-liquid flavours such as strawberry, cookie, and bubble gum also imitate food products that are often marketed to young people. In addition, e-cigarette promotions are widely available on social media, which targets young people. A recent study found e-cigarette and or vaping-related videos on TikTok were collectively viewed over 1.5 billion times and many were available without age-restriction.

If you are currently smoking and have trouble quitting, switching to vaping is likely to reduce harm. You should also work with your doctor to find the most suitable option to quit smoking.

Quitting all forms of smoking and vaping is of the utmost importance to decrease the risk of adverse health effects.

Carmen LimAUTHOR: Carmen Lim is a biostatistician and a PhD candidate at NCYSUR. Her current research focuses on the application of text mining on data obtained from social media platforms to investigate the latest trend and harms associated with cannabis vaping.