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Smoking vs. Vaping: What the Public Should Consider When It Comes to Their Health

Anti-smoking public health programs are working to address vaping.

Smoking can kill you. Decades of public health programs and anti-smoking ad campaigns have taught us that and have helped reduce the number of people in the U.S. who smoke from over 42% of the population in 1965 to under 17% of the population in 2014.*

It would seem the debate on whether smoking is dangerous is over—except there’s a new kind of “smoking” that’s rapidly gaining popularity. Most commonly called vaping, this new form of smoking could be the future of the tobacco industry. But lots of questions remain.

Smoking vs. Vaping: What the Public Should Consider When It Comes to Their Health

What Is Vaping?

In a traditional cigarette, dried tobacco is lit on fire, which allows the smoker to inhale nicotine, the active—and addictive—chemical in tobacco. It’s an ancient and efficient method of experiencing the mild, mood-altering effects of nicotine.

Vaping, on the other hand, is a new and high-tech method that combines an electronic device (e-cigarette, e-pipe, hookah pen, etc.) with a specially engineered liquid containing nicotine, flavoring, and additional chemicals. When someone inhales on a vaping device, an electronic heat source ignites and turns the liquid into vapor, allowing it to be inhaled. Unlike with cigarettes and other traditional tobacco products, vaping doesn’t include tar, particulate matter, or the other byproducts of burning tobacco.

Is Vaping Better for You Than Smoking?

Recent research suggests that vaping is significantly better for you over the long term than smoking, with people who vape having much lower levels of toxins and carcinogens in their bodies than those who smoke. This has led many to recommend vaping as a positive alternative to smoking. However, just because vaping is less harmful than smoking doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

What Are the Health Effects of Smoking vs. Vaping?

The negative health effects of smoking are well-documented. They include:

  • Cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, clotting, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
  • Respiratory diseases, such as asthma and COPD.
  • Cancers of the bladder, blood, cervix, colon, esophagus, kidney, larynx, liver, lung, pancreas, rectum, stomach, tongue, tonsils, and trachea.
  • Complications with pregnancy, including preterm delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, and orofacial clefts in infants.
  • Other issues, such as weaker bones, tooth loss, increased risk for cataracts, muscular degeneration, diabetes, decreased immune function, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Vaping, on the other hand, hasn’t been studied nearly as much, making its negative effects less certain. However, there are some clear risks. For one, nicotine is unsafe in high quantities and vaping liquid can cause fatal nicotine poisoning in children, even if it just contacts the skin.§ Additionally, the non-nicotine chemicals in vaping are potentially harmful, with the biggest concern being formaldehyde and acrolein. While these harmful compounds aren’t present in vaping liquids, they can be produced when the liquid is vaporized.** On top of that, some flavorings that are added to vaping liquid use chemical agents known to have carcinogenic qualities.††

In the coming years, more studies will likely uncover and/or clarify the exact health risks of vaping. But it’s already a given that vaping isn’t a healthy habit, even if it’s not as unhealthy as smoking.

How Can You Learn More?

If you’re interested in helping study and address serious public health issues, such as smoking and vaping, you should consider earning a public health degree. Depending on what kind of public health career you want, you can choose from a wide number of public health degree programs.

If you don’t yet hold a college degree, you can become a public health major and earn a Bachelor of Science in Public Health, which can help you qualify for many of the entry-level jobs in public health departments. If you’re already a public health professional and are looking to become a leader in the field, you can enroll in a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program. Or, you can consider a PhD in Public Health, which will prepare you to take a more academic approach to analyzing and solving public health problems.

What’s the best way to earn one of these degrees? Whether you’re thinking about a bachelor’s in public health, a master’s in public health, or a PhD degree in public health, you can reach your educational goals through online education. Unlike with campus-based learning, online learning gives you plenty of convenience and flexibility, making it possible to complete a public health bachelor’s program, MPH program, or public health PhD program from home and on a schedule that allows you to attend class at whatever time of day works best for you. This, in turn, makes it possible to continue working full time while you earn your degree.

Smoking remains a serious public health problem, and vaping may prove to be equally troublesome. To help reduce the diseases associated with these habits, we need strong public health professionals. With a public health degree from an online university, you can become just such a professional.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering BS in Public Health, Master of Public Health, and PhD in Public Health degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Trends in Current Cigarette Smoking Among High School Students and Adults, United States, 1965–2014, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on the internet at www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/tables/trends/cig_smoking/index.htm.

†NHS Choices, Long-term vaping 'far safer than smoking' says 'landmark' study, National Institutes of Health, on the internet at https://www.nhs.uk/news/heart-and-lungs/long-term-vaping-far-safer-than-smoking-says-landmark-study/.

‡Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on the internet at www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm.

§HealthyChildren.org, Liquid Nicotine Used in E-Cigarettes Can Kill Children, American Academy of Pediatrics, on the internet at www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/Pages/Liquid-Nicotine-Used-in-E-Cigarettes-Can-Kill-Children.aspx.

**L. Shaffer, Vaping Is Far From Harmless, PBS, on the internet at www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/vaping.

††R. Wheeler, The Vape Debate: What You Need to Know, WebMD, on the internet at www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/features/vape-debate-electronic-cigarettes#1.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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