Chemical exposure - vaping versus smoking

Chemical exposure - vaping versus smoking

Whichever way you look at it, whether you vape or smoke, foreign substances are still entering your lungs and there are bound to be some health factors that arise due to this fact. Smoking tobacco-filled cigarettes generally has more severe health effects in comparison to e-cigarettes in the grand scheme of things, however, it’s best that you are well informed on both options before you make your decision.

What chemical exposure does vaping entail?

Vaping includes a hand-held device that turns e-liquid into a vapour that can be inhaled either by drawing on the mouthpiece of the device or by pushing an on/off button. Essentially, vaping mimics smoking without incorporating the harmful factor, tobacco. Studies conducted on the differences in long term health risks between smoking combustible cigarettes and vaping (when pursued separately, not in conjunction with one another) show that vaping leads to substantially reduced levels of carcinogens (substances that have been found to cause cancer in living tissue) and toxin exposure in comparison to smoking.(2) However, most researchers agree that e-cigarettes as a harm reduction technique for smokers who are battling to quit still requires further research.(3)


The following chemicals have been found in the vapour of e-cigarettes:

  • Nicotine
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Vegetable Glycerol
  • Acetaldehyde
  • Nitrosamines

The balance of chemicals that remain contribute towards the development of creating flavours. Most of these are regarded as being ‘food grade safe’ and generally safe for a person to consume. However, there is no concrete evidence regarding the safety of these flavours once they are transformed into a vapour and inhaled, as the safety approval factor that is applied, really only relates to ingestion.


What chemical exposure does smoking entail?

Smoking a cigarette results in the tobacco within it combusting once it is ignited by a flame, doing so means that you are exposed to a significant number of chemicals (more than 7000 to be exact)(1) with, on average, around 20 of those having been found to cause terminal illnesses such as cancer. 

Researchers have given these 20 chemicals the name ‘carcinogens’ (an item that has been found to cause cancer in living tissue). Some of these toxic substances which will only present themselves when tobacco is combusted include:

  • Nicotine
  • Hydrogen Cyanide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Ammonia
  • Benzene
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Nitrosamines
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons



1. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. March-April 2011. Exposure to tobacco smoke causes immediate damage: A report of the surgeon general: [Accessed 22.03.2018]

2. Research Gate. February 2017. Nicotine, Carcinogen, and Toxin Exposure in Long-Term E-Cigarette and Nicotine Replacement Therapy Users: [Accessed 22.03.2018]

3. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 1 March 2015. Levels of selected carcinogens and toxicants in vapor from electronic cigarettes: [Accessed 22.03.2018]

PREVIOUS What ingredients are used to make up e-liquids?
NEXT Health and safety - the risks of smoking