So Just How Safe is Vaping Compared to Smoking?
The most over-used and positive statistic bandied around by vape advocates is that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than tobacco.
I probably use that line a lot and I’m very happy to – given it helps in some way to stem the constant avalanche of negative press and what we’ve come to call junk science around vaping.
The 95% figure has become almost a mantra and stemmed from Public Health England back in the summer of 2015 following its detailed study into the impact of e-cigarettes on the health of the nation.
I find myself using the ‘95%’ on an almost daily basis – but what are its roots and how true is it?
And come to that who are Public Health England?
And why does its opinions and findings on vaping matter and indeed why should we listen to them?
Public Health England – Who Are They?
Ok, the PHE is an executive agency attached to the Department of Health.
The department employs over 5,000 people mainly health professionals – scientists and researchers and covers all aspects of health in the UK and abroad.
The PHE lists its main priorities as:
- making the public healthier and reducing differences between the health of different groups by promoting healthier lifestyles, advising government and supporting action by local government, the NHS and the public
- protecting the nation from public health hazards
- preparing for and responding to public health emergencies
- improving the health of the whole population by sharing our information and expertise, and identifying and preparing for future public health challenges
- supporting local authorities and the NHS to plan and provide health and social care services such as immunisation and screening programmes, and to develop the public health system and its specialist workforce
- researching, collecting and analysing data to improve our understanding of public health challenges, and come up with answers to public health problems
So this is not just some small health charity run by a couple of unqualified researchers on social media – PHE are the big boys if you like.
So when these guys make a pronouncement the health world listens – in most cases anyway!
The Famous Vaping is 95% Safer than Smoking Study
Ok so let’s take a look at just how the PHE study into e-cigarettes and vaping came up with the figure.
It was actually another study published in 2014 that arrived at the 95% safer figure we all like to push.
This was a grandly titled study conducted by an international panel of experts – Estimating the Harms of Nicotine-Containing Products Using the MCDA Approach – you can read the full text of that study HERE.
The expert panel used a wide range of sources to come to the conclusion and basically picked out 12 products to test including cigarettes – cigars and pipe tobacco and tested them against 14 what’s called ‘harm criteria’.
Each of the dozen was marked as to how harmful it was to the human body with 100 points being the most harmful – with cigarettes topping the list and scoring an unsurprising max 100 points.
In conclusion the study stated:
Cigarettes are the nicotine product causing by far the most harm to users and others in the world today.
Attempts to switch to non-combusted sources of nicotine should be encouraged as the harms from these products are much lower.
Note the last line – “non-combusted sources of nicotine should be encouraged as the harms from these products are much lower”.
Now that’s the scientific fact the mainstream media in particular seems to shy away from reporting or indeed accepting.
In simple terms this means that it’s the smoke that kills not the nicotine – so by heating [like an e-cigarette] and not burning [like a normal cigarette] there’s far less harm.
And hey given we’re talking about a completely different format [a liquid] that on the whole contains minute [if that] traces of tobacco AND we as vapers heat rather than burn – then the comparison should stop there!
And that’s where the anti vape brigade backed by the mainstream media not only clouds the issue – but positively throws a huge black cloud of confusion over the whole is it safe to vape than smoke debate!
So it is this study – backed up by 23 other detailed studies conducted by reputable experts – that have all been scientifically peer reviewed and found there is no argument to be made that vaping is dangerous.
Indeed based on these expert and detailed findings vaping or e-cigarette use is 95% safer than smoking and the PHE goes a step further and suggests e-cigarettes should be made available on the NHS!
To add, the The Royal College of Physicians also conluded:
E-cigarettes are likely to be beneficial to UK public health.
Smokers can therefore be reassured and encouraged to use them, and the public can be reassured that e-cigarettes are much safer than smoking.
The rest of the RCP report can be read here
You really can’t get any clearer than that yet STILL the media in particular pounces on ANY back room study by a bunch of ‘scientists’ that suggests otherwise.
Anyone would think there’s an agenda there…
But you see most of the junk science around vaping seems to concentrate on nicotine and tobacco – which is where the nicotine comes from – mostly – which I’ll get onto later.
So let’s look at burning vs heating and just what a smoker is inhaling into their bodies with every drag they take and compare that to what we as vapers are inhaling.
So What’s So Bad About Cigarette Smoke?
OK I think we all know by now and despite Big Tobacco constantly covering their rich uncaring arses about the death and suffering they’ve bought to millions of people – smoking is bad – very bad.
According to the facts there are 7,000+ chemicals in tobacco smoke – note smoke – this includes at least 250 chemicals which are known to be harmful.
Of those 250 harmful chemicals 69 can and do cause cancer – these include:
- Aromatic amines
- Beryllium (a toxic metal)
- 1,3–Butadiene (a hazardous gas)
- Cadmium (a toxic metal)
- Chromium (a metallic element)
- Ethylene oxide
- Nickel (a metallic element)
- Polonium-210 (a radioactive chemical element)
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
- Tobacco-specific nitrosamines
- Vinyl chloride
Remember these chemicals and indeed the ‘less’ harmful ones are created by the burning.
Source: The National Cancer Institute
Almost half a million people [480,000] die from smoking related illnesses every year – that’s one in five of all deaths.
Death from smoking in the USA outweighs these five killers combined:
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Illegal drug use
- Alcohol use
- Motor vehicle injuries
- Firearm-related incidents
And more people have died from smoking related illnesses in the US than all the lives lost in every single war the USA has been involved in.
Effects of Cigarette Smoke
Here in the UK SmokeFree NHS lays it out as clear as day just what every single puff on a cigarette does to a smokers body.
We’ll get onto passive smoking and so called passive vaping later.
Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, accounting for more than 80,000 deaths each year. One in two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.
Each puff on a fag attacks the whole body – circulation – heart – stomach – skin – bones – brain – lungs – mouth and throat and also affects fertility.
As each part of the body is attacked the risk of disease is obvious with an estimated 1 in 2 smokers dying from a smoking related disease.
And if that’s shocking then according to the experts passive smoking is just as dangerous.
Effects from Passive Smoking
Cancer UK states:
There are 2 types of tobacco smoke:
Mainstream smoke, which is directly inhaled through the mouth end of the cigarette
Sidestream smoke, which comes from the burning tip of the cigarette
Second-hand smoke is made up of sidestream smoke and exhaled mainstream smoke, mixed with the surrounding air.
Sidestream smoke is about 4 times more toxic than mainstream smoke, although people inhale it in a more diluted form.
This is because sidestream smoke contains much higher levels of many of the poisons and cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes, including:
At least 3 times as much carbon monoxide
10-30 times more nitrosamines
Between 15–300 times more ammonia
Source: Cancer UK – Passive Smoking
Little wonder then it’s an offence for people to smoke in a car alongside children here in the UK and has been for the last couple of years.
So can these same arguments be applied to vapour from e-cigarettes and those big shiny mods we all love?
Let’s take a look at what we know.
Effects of Vapor From E-Cigarettes
You could spend years reading through all the conflicting reports – studies and findings on this subject – trust me!
Despite being around for a long time now the scientific and health community are not only divided on the issue but also pretty much unclear on what if any damage e-cig vapour can have on the body.
So what’s in every vape we take and is it dangerous?
For a start nothing – not even a fluffy marshmallow for instance is 100% safe – there’s always something that could happen lol.
However when it comes to vapour from an e-cigarette is it really harmful?
Your typical e-liquid is made up of food safe vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol [PG and VG] – flavourings and in some cases colourings and of course nicotine – again in some cases.
VG is found in toothpaste and in some medical gels and creams.
PG can be found in many things including asthma inhalers!
The flavourings are all food safe and used throughout the food manufacturing process – the same with colourings.
The nicotine is of pharmaceutical grade and there is no evidence it can cause cancer.
Nicotine and Caffeine
Nicotine has a similar effect on the body as caffeine fact so put that in your pipe and smoke it – er maybe not my best analogy but you catch my drift 😉
That’s not just me throwing out a statement – it’s backed by the facts and in this case the Royal Society for Public Health.
RSPH make this very clear:
‘nicotine is no more harmful to health than caffeine’
For a more detailed look at what’s in your e-liquid check out our very own detailed analysis of what’s in your e-liquid here.
OK, a scientific study back in 2014 and carried out by researchers from – take a deep breath it’s a long one lol – the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of London – entitled:
Phew now that’s a mouthful lol.
After a detailed study of e-cigarette vapour they concluded [EC = e-cigarettes]:
EC aerosol can contain some of the toxicants present in tobacco smoke, but at levels which are much lower. Long-term health effects of EC use are unknown but compared with cigarettes, EC are likely to be much less, if at all, harmful to users or bystanders.
EC are increasingly popular among smokers, but to date there is no evidence of regular use by never-smokers or by non-smoking children. EC enable some users to reduce or quit smoking.
Allowing EC to compete with cigarettes in the market-place might decrease smoking-related morbidity and mortality. Regulating EC as strictly as cigarettes, or even more strictly as some regulators propose, is not warranted on current evidence.
Health professionals may consider advising smokers unable or unwilling to quit through other routes to switch to EC as a safer alternative to smoking and a possible pathway to complete cessation of nicotine use.
Let’s just look at a key line there shall we:
EC are likely to be much less, if at all, harmful to users or bystanders.
And this was three years ago – ‘less harmful if at all to users or bystanders.’
Safer for us vapers by far and indeed no real threat to bystanders through so called passive vaping.
Boom! As the young folk say.
And how sad the suggestion of ‘no need for strict regulations’ passed by unheeded.
A case could be made – and one I agree with in principal – that by regulating vaping as tightly as the EU in particular has done – it has and will make people shy away from quitting smoking by the use of e-cigs.
But that’s another article for another time maybe.
Blowing Away the Myth of Passive Vaping
Passive vaping incidentally has been proven time and time again to be a myth – and no doubt the cause of many a pub row – I know I’ve been in a few ‘heated discussions’ over the subject even in the pub garden lol.
Anyway if that 3 year-old report isn’t good enough – I recently reported on another study into alleged ‘passive vaping’ which blew the myth out of the water once and for all.
Scientists in California basically went into a number of vape shops during busy periods and carried out so called detailed ‘quality air’ tests.
The vape shops as we know from experience can get a little foggy to say the least.
So surprise surprise the scientists were left with egg on their faces after the results came back showing er nothing – nada – zilch – absolutely nothing sinister in the air.
Given these shops were busy – foggy and with hardly any ventilation tobacco expert and professor – Dr Michael Siegel said the results showed that even in those most concentrated air quality tests the fact nothing dangerous was found proves vapour and indeed second hand vapour is safe.
He said at the time:
This study, although conducted under very high exposure conditions in a small, non-ventilated vape shop with many employees and customers vaping and clouds of vapor visible, did not document any dangerous levels of exposure to any hazardous chemical.
Nicotine exposure was essentially non-existent. Formaldehyde exposure was no different than in many indoor and outdoor environments at baseline.
Acetone, acetoin, other aldehydes, toluene, benzene, and xylene were not detected.
Chemicals that have been associated with “popcorn lung” were also not detected by the standard method.
There’s one for the ‘popcorn lung’ argument if either I saw one lol.
Thank goodness someone leaked him the findings because I doubt we’d ever have heard about it otherwise!
So no and based on what we know now whilst vapour from e-cigarettes isn’t 100% safe – it is most definitely 95% safer than smoking.
Look nothing is 100% safe.
However it’s looking at the two ‘evils’ if you like with the smoking vs vaping debate.
Tobacco smoke kills the user and can cause serious illness and death to bystanders through passive smoking it’s as simple as that.
Whilst we can’t be 100% sure the vapour from an e-cigarette is 100% safe – even with the whole raft of scientific studies saying it is relatively harmless – we can say it is 95% safer!
Of course it would be great if we all packed up smoking and vaping – but hey this is the real world I actually enjoy vaping and am proud of packing up the fags!
For those of you suggesting I’m only picking the science I like and labeling the others I don’t ‘junk science’ I take your point.
However the media pounces with abject glee on any negative ‘study’ that any backwater university of Big Tobacco funded research comes out with – peer reviewed or not.
It’s very rare you’ll see a positive spin put on a good news e-cigarette story – and you have to ask yourselves why.
The weight of scientific evidence is and has been shifting towards the benefits of vaping for a long time now and the sooner we get everyone on board more lives could be saved.
I strongly believe that every time one of the tabloids or news channels ‘bigs up’ an anti vaping study or story they are sentencing millions if not billions of people to a slow painful cancer ridden death.
Shame on them.