Despite how vaping may look to non-smokers, smoking and vaping are vastly different. When you smoke a cigarette, you’re lighting dead plant material on fire and inhaling the smoke. Breathing smoke — any kind of smoke — is dangerous.
The products of combustion are devastating to the lungs and cardiovascular system. Thousands of chemicals and compounds are inhaled, including more than 70 that are known carcinogens. In addition to cancer risk, smoking can cause massive damage to the heart and circulatory system, leading to heart disease, and possibly causing heart attack and stroke. There is also damage to the lungs, which can cause emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
There may be some risks from vaping (which we have looked at in more detail before), but so far no evidence of serious health danger has emerged. Studying all the available scientific literature on vaping, the Royal College of Physicians concluded in 2016 that vaping is “unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco.”
Most of the debate over vaping is rooted in a simple disagreement. Should we judge vaping by its unproven risks, or by its proven benefits? American public health officials are prone to looking at absolute risk as the yardstick. They’re worried there might be some health risk that will appear out of nowhere. British health groups, on the other hand, support the idea of harm reduction — offering users of dangerous products safer (but not necessarily absolutely safe) choices like nicotine replacement therapy.
About half of long-term smokers die prematurely from using cigarettes. The World Health Organization estimates that a billion people will die from smoking this century. Reducing or eliminating the damage caused by burning tobacco would not only save many lives, it would also allow billions of dollars that are now spent treating preventable smoking diseases to be directed elsewhere. Reducing smoking would save money as well as lives.