Some experts consider vaping less harmful than smoking, but there’s still a lot to learn about its long-term effects. Vaping still poses many of the same risks that smoking does.

The risk comparison of e-cigarettes and vaping devices has been a topic of debate among health experts for years.

Unlike combustible cigarettes, vaping devices don’t contain tobacco or emit tar, contributing to the idea that vaping is safer than smoking. But in 2019, a significant uptick in vaping-related lung injuries led some people to wonder if vaping was actually moreharmful than smoking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some experts still consider vaping less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean vaping isn’t harmful. It’s also worth noting that e-cigarettes are fairly new, so the long-term effects of vaping are still unclear.

Vaping and smoking share many of the same health risks. But there are some differences in the severity of these risks.

Here’s a look at how some of the biggest health risks between the two compare:

Respiratory conditions

Both smoking and vaping irritate your airways and lungs, which can contribute to several health conditions affecting your lungs, including:

Many people may know that smoking increases your risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Experts are less certain about the long-term effects of vaping. But a 2020 study suggested current e-cigarette users have about a 40% greater chance of developing a respiratory condition than those who don’t use e-cigarettes or smoke.

A 2019 study echoed this link and added that people who use e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes have a greater risk of respiratory disease than those who only use one or the other.

Certain vape products may contain diacetyl, a chemical that manufacturers use to add a buttery flavor to some vape “juices.” Diacetyl links to the development of popcorn lung, a condition involving permanent scarring to your airways.

Heart disease

Smoking links to high blood pressure, heart rate, and a general worsening of cardiovascular function. These factors, and the thousands of harmful chemicals in cigarettes, can increase your risk of heart disease. A 2020 World Health Organization brief noted that 20% of heart disease-related deaths link to smoking.

The effects of vaping on heart health are less clear, but research links it to similar increases in blood pressure and heart rate.

A 2022 study compared exercise stress test results among people who vape, smoke, and those who neither vape nor smoke. People in the vaping group consistently performed worse than those in the control group but slightly better than those in the smoking group.


The CDC notes that people who smoke are up to 30 times more likely to develop and die from lung cancer than those who don’t smoke. Research has also linked smoking cigarettes to an increased risk of colon, throat, and breast cancer, among other cancers.

E-cigarettes haven’t been around long enough for experts to fully understand the link between their use and cancer risk. But many products contain some of the same carcinogens that cigarettes do, including:

  • formaldehyde
  • acetaldehyde
  • nitrosamines

E-cigarettes tend to contain lower levels of harmful chemicals. If you currently smoke cigarettes, vaping can reduce your exposure to these chemicals and potentially decrease your cancer risk. But if you don’t currently vape or smoke, using e-cigarettes may increase your cancer risk.

Learn more about the link between vaping and cancer.

With e-cigarettes being slightly less harmful than cigarettes, some people use vaping to help them reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke.

Research on this so-called “dual use” is limited. However, a 2022 review suggested that smoking and vaping are as harmful are as harmful or possibly more harmful than just smoking.

Manufacturers initially intended for e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking. Some experts generally consider vaping less harmful than smoking, but it’s less clear whether vaping can actually help people quit smoking.

A different 2022 review suggested that e-cigarettes may help people quit smoking, possibly even more than nicotine replacement therapy. However, the authors noted that they need more high quality studies to confirm the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool.

While not without risks, vaping is generally less harmful than smoking. However, there’s still a lot to learn about e-cigarettes and vaping, including the full scope of their long-term health risks.

If you currently smoke and are trying to reduce your risk of negative health effects, quitting is the most effective option. But if you aren’t ready to stop using nicotine completely, switching to vaping can be a slightly safer alternative.