Is vaping more dangerous than smoking?

The debate between vaping and smoking has gained significant attention in recent times. Vaping involves inhaling vapour produced by an electronic device that heats a liquid containing nicotine and other chemicals. Smoking, on the other hand, involves burning tobacco, which releases nicotine along with many toxic substances.

Vaping is often seen as a safer alternative due to the absence of combustion and tar. However, it still poses some quite serious health risks. Vaping exposes users to harmful chemicals like diacetyl, heavy metals, and carcinogens, and its long-term effects remain uncertain due to the relative novelty of e-cigarettes.

Chemical composition


E-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes differ significantly in their chemical composition. E-cigarettes primarily contain:


  • Nicotine
  • Propylene glycol
  • Vegetable glycerin
  • Flavourings


When heated, these ingredients form an aerosol that users inhale. There are often harmful substances such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein in e-cigarette aerosols, but generally at lower levels than in traditional cigarettes.


Traditional cigarettes contain a complex mixture of over 7,000 chemicals, including:


  • Nicotine
  • Tar
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Nitrosamines


These substances are a byproduct of the combustion process, which is absent in e-cigarettes. 


Diacetyl, a flavouring agent linked to severe respiratory disease, has been found in some e-cigarette products. The inconsistency in nicotine levels and the presence of toxic metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) also raise health concerns.

Health risks

Both vaping and smoking come with their own unique long and short-term health risks. 


Short-term health risks of vaping include:


  • Respiratory issues and throat irritation
  • Damage to airway cells
  • Increased risk of viral infections like RSV


Users may experience symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain due to lung injuries associated with vaping products.


Long-term health risks of vaping are still being studied but include potential risks to cardiovascular and respiratory health, including the possibility of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.


Short-term health risks of smoking include


  • Respiratory issues
  • Cardiovascular strain
  • An increased cancer risk
  • Immediate harm caused by increasing heart rate and blood pressure, and it introduces numerous carcinogens into the body.


Long-term health risks of smoking are severe and include:


  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • COPD


Smoking is the leading cause of preventable diseases and deaths worldwide, significantly raising the risk of numerous chronic conditions and cancers.

Youth appeal


Vaping has become increasingly popular among young people due to several factors. One of the primary attractions is the wide range of flavoured e-liquids available. With over 7,000 flavours like fruit, candy, and mint, these varied options make vaping more enticing to young people compared to traditional tobacco products. It naturally takes away from the feeling of danger associated with traditional smoking.


Marketing strategies also play a significant role. The vaping industry often targets teenagers and young adults through social media campaigns, influencer endorsements, and colourful product designs. This digital marketing is highly effective in reaching young audiences and promoting the perceived coolness of vaping.


There is also the misconception that vaping is safer than smoking. Many young people believe that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, which is one of the main reasons why the majority continue using these products.


The potential long-term consequences for youth who vape are significant. Nicotine addiction can develop quickly in adolescents whose brains are still developing. This can lead to cognitive and behavioural issues, as well as an increased likelihood of transitioning to traditional cigarette smoking. 

Nicotine addiction 


Vaping and smoking both deliver nicotine, a highly addictive substance, to the brain, but they do so in different ways. Smoking involves inhaling nicotine through burning tobacco, which releases thousands of harmful chemicals. Vaping uses a battery-operated device to heat a nicotine-containing liquid. 


Symptoms of nicotine addiction in both vaping and smoking include:


  • Intense cravings
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased appetite


Nicotine salts, used in many e-cigarettes, significantly increase addiction potential. These salts allow for higher concentrations of nicotine to be inhaled more smoothly, which can lead to stronger and faster addiction compared to traditional cigarettes. This higher nicotine delivery is particularly concerning for young people, whose developing brains are more susceptible to addiction. 


Overall, while vaping may eliminate some harmful chemicals associated with smoking, it introduces its own set of risks and does not eliminate the problem of nicotine addiction.



The UK’s regulations on vaping and smoking have evolved significantly to address health concerns and reduce nicotine addiction among the youth. The Tobacco and Vapes Bill of 2024 introduces comprehensive measures to curb both smoking and vaping. Notably, it aims to create a “smoke-free generation” by making it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009, ensuring that future generations are shielded from the harmful effects of smoking.


In terms of vaping, the Bill includes strict regulations on the flavours, packaging, and retail display of vaping products to deter youth usage. The sale of both nicotine and non-nicotine vapes to individuals under 18 is banned, and free distribution of these products to minors is also banned. These measures are designed to reduce the appeal of vapes, which have been increasingly popular among children due to their sweet flavours and attractive packaging.


Recent policy changes highlight the UK government’s commitment to public health. The introduction of excise duty on vaping products and the ban on disposable vapes reflect efforts to control the environmental and health impacts of vaping. 


Given the addictive nature of nicotine and the unknown long-term effects of vaping, there is a growing need for stricter regulations on vaping to align them more closely with those of traditional smoking. This approach aims to prevent a new generation from falling into nicotine addiction and to protect public health comprehensively.

Dealing with a smoking or vaping addiction


Nicotine addiction can lead to various health issues. Here are some strategies to avoid or quit vaping and smoking. 


Strategies to quit:


  1. Set a quit date: Choose a specific date to stop smoking or vaping. This helps create a clear goal to work towards.
  2. Understand your triggers: Identify situations, emotions, or activities that trigger your urge to smoke or vape. Knowing your triggers can help you develop strategies to avoid or manage them.
  3. Seek professional help: Consult with healthcare professionals who specialise in addiction. They can provide personalised guidance and may prescribe medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms.
  4. Use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT): Options like nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges can help reduce withdrawal symptoms by providing a controlled dose of nicotine without the harmful effects of smoking or vaping.
  5. Behavioural therapy: Counselling or therapy with a trained professional can help address the psychological aspects of addiction. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) are particularly effective in helping individuals change their smoking or vaping habits.


Who to reach out to if the problem feels unmanageable:


  1. Smoking cessation programmes: Many hospitals and clinics offer smoking cessation programmes. These programs provide a structured approach to quitting, including counselling and support.


  1. Non-profit Organisations: Organisations like ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), QUIT, and NCST (National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training) offer resources and support for individuals trying to quit smoking or vaping.


Overcoming a smoking or vaping addiction is challenging but entirely achievable with the right strategies and support.