Vape Smoke - Is Vapor Harmful?

Is Vape Smoke Harmful? What’s The Difference Between Smoke & Vapor?

Callumn WinterHealth Guides 2 Comments

Vape smoke… If you’re a vaper reading this then chances are the very term ‘vape smoke’ riles you up. And chances are you’ve also been asked at least one of these grating questions at some stage…

  • “Is vape smoke bad for you?”
  • Is passive vapor harmful?”
  • “Should you really be vaping inside?”
  • “But won’t it leave a smell?”

If you haven’t been asked one of these questions then you’re probably the one doing the asking! Personally, I get it…. if you spend a lot of time around someone vaping it’s only natural to wonder if those clouds drifting across your line of sight are doing any harm!

But rest assured we’re here to clear up some of the confusion. We’ll be answering the questions above and drilling down into the key differences between vapor and smoke.

Dispelling the ‘Vape Smoke’ myth!
The differences between smoke and vapor…

Where a lot of confusion stems from is just how similar smoke and vapor look. If we aren’t cloud chasing (the act of blowing as big a vapor cloud as one can!) then it’s easy to mistake us vapers as your common garden variety smoker.

UK Vaping Events
The aforementioned act of ‘Cloud Chasing’

But despite the similarities in how smoke and vapor look they couldn’t be more different. What makes the two strikingly different is their chemical composition.

But first let’s start with the definitions of both vapor and smoke…

Definition of smoke

The English Cambridge Dictionary defines smoke as:

“the grey, black, or white mixture of gas and very small pieces of carbon that is produced when something burns.”

The key takeaway here is the word ‘burn’. When we set something on fire we cause the combustion of the original material; in this case tobacco. When we burn a material it alters the chemical composition of it drastically.

While cigarettes have approximately 600 ingredients in them, over 7,000 chemicals are produced when we burn one. Worryingly, over 70 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer and many more are categorized as poisonous!

Definition of vapor

The definition of vapor can get a little heavy on the science, especially when we consider the clouds leaving our vape are technically an aerosol. Wikipedia sums the two up pretty well:

“Vapor is a substance in the gas phase at a temperature lower than it’s critical temperature… An aerosol is a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets, in air or another gas.”

When the ingredients in e juice are heated a gaseous vapor is formed with the ingredients being suspended in a fine liquid particle form. Unlike cigarette smoke we see no visible carbon present in vapor; precisely because no combustion occurred.

The e juice is heated to a temperature lower than it’s critical one. This means that no combustion takes place. The chemicals in the e juice aren’t drastically altered, only turned into an aerosol. Essentially, what you find in e juice is exactly what you find in the vapor produced by heating it.

A look at the chemicals in smoke and vapor

The term ‘Vape Smoke’ really gets blown out of the water when you consider just how different the chemical compositions of vapor and smoke are….

The chemicals in vapor

The 4 main ingredients found in e juice vapor are all approved by the FDA and BMA as safe for consumption. The food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries have all been using these ingredients for years without any reported issues:

  • Vegetable Glycerin (VG) – A particularly popular product in the cosmetics industry. This gives e juice a thicker consistency and produces the clouds synonymous with vaping.
  • Propylene Glycol (PG) – Used as a preservative in the food industry as well as being present in lots of shampoos and cosmetics. This ingredient gives vapers a throat hit that mimics the effect of smoking.
  • Food grade flavoring – No awards for guessing which industry uses this ingredient… the flavorings in e juice are varied and plentiful. They have a long history of use in foods like confectionery, cakes, soft drinks and yogurts.
  • Nicotine – The fourth main ingredient in e juice acts as a stimulant and increases your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. This chemical is naturally found in the nightshade family of plants i.e. the tobacco plant. You’ll also find small amounts of nicotine in foods belonging to the nightshade family like tomatoes, potatoes and red peppers.
What about the other chemicals in vapor?

Besides the main 4 chemicals found in vapor, studies suggest that tiny ultrafine particles of harmful chemicals are also present:

  • Formaldehyde – Linked to Propylene Glycol and produced when PG is heated. This chemical causes irritation to the eyes, nose and throat and has also been linked with leukaemia and nasopharyngeal cancer. Present in cigarettes and to a much higher degree, there hasn’t yet been any studies into how the tiny formaldehyde particles contained in vapor affect the body.
  • Diacetyl – A naturally occurring chemical found in low concentrations in butter, coffee, fruits, tobacco and more. This chemical has been shown to cause respiratory problems. In vaping, diacetyl can be found in the e juice flavorings. However, it’s important to note that you can buy flavorings without diacetyl in them. If the e juice you vape does contain diacetyl it’s also worth noting that on average it contains 100 times less diacetyl than a tobacco cigarette.
  • Heavy metals – The third most worrying component found in vapor is the presence of heavy metal such as chromium, manganese and nickel. Researchers found that tiny particles of these metals can be present in the vapor produced from e cigarettes and are considered harmful.
The chemicals in smoke

If I were to write about all of the chemicals in tobacco smoke you’d be faced with an encyclopedia on the subject. In this article I’ll stick to the worst offenders:

  • Hydrogen cyanide – This nasty little chemical was actually used as a genocidal agent during World War II. In small doses the chemical can cause headaches, dizziness and vomiting. Worse still, higher dosages can cause seizures, fainting and even death.
  • Radioactive metals – Metals such as lead have been found in harmful quantities in cigarette smoke. These primarily come from the fertilizer and soil used to grow tobacco leaves. The inhalation of heavy metals like lead has been linked to lung cancer.
  • Benzene – Found in pesticides and gasoline, smokers inhaling this chemical are at a greater risk of developing cancer. In fact, tobacco smoke accounts for half of all human exposure to this dangerous chemical.
  • Carbon monoxide – One of the more dangerous poisons in cigarette smoke (one of 250 poisons found!) carbon monoxide can have some nasty side effects. Tobacco smoke has been found to contain large quantities of the chemical which is also present in car exhaust fumes and is lethal in large doses.
  • Arsenic – Used in rat poison and by gold-diggers looking to knock off their spouses… Again this nasty chemical finds its way into cigarette smoke during the tobacco farming process.
  • Tar – This chemical is produced during the combustion process and is essentially just burnt plant matter. This is the main offender in causing yellow stains on a smoker’s fingers, clothes and furniture.

The above chemicals are just a handful of culprits in a list 7,000 strong! It stands to reason that the sheer number of chemicals in smoke compared to those in vapor make it a far more dangerous beast.

vapor vs smoke

What about passive vaping? Is vapor harmful for those around us?

We all know that standing near a smoker and inhaling their second-hand smoke is harmful for us. Countless studies have shown the negative impact second-hand smoke can have. As well as this cigarettes release smoke whether they’re being drawn on or not. The advantage of e cigarettes is that they only emit a vapor when being used.

BUT, what about the chemicals in second-hand vapor…?

While there’s still much research to be done into this area several early studies suggest that the risk of second-hand vapor is much lower than the risk of second-hand smoke. This study suggested that the levels of harmful chemicals present in vapor are anywhere from 9 – 450 times less than those present in cigarette smoke.

A further study in 2014 however suggested that the vapor produced by e cigarettes can still negatively impact indoor air quality. The researchers tested 9 vapers in a well ventilated room for 2 hours at a time. The results showed the indoor air quality dropped and contained higher levels of chemicals like nicotine, aluminium and particulate matter (chemicals that affect the respiratory system).

While a number of hardcore vapers are adamant that vaping should be allowed in public spaces it seems obvious that vapor is still harmful and does reduce the air quality around us.

With that being said, the harm caused by second-hand vapor is significantly lower than second-hand smoke. If you use an e cigarette we’d recommend a common sense approach when vaping around others, especially children. If you spend a lot of time around a vaper you can rest easy, knowing the risk is significantly lower than breathing in passive cigarette smoke.

Questions you might still have about vapor…?

While I’ve shown that the health risks associated with ‘vape smoke’ are considerably less than those associated with tobacco smoke, you might still have some reservations about vapor.

Does vapor stain clothes and furniture like cigarette smoke?

The short answer is no. The primary cause of staining from cigarettes is because of the tar found in tobacco smoke. Because there’s no tar present in vapor there’s no resinous material to cause the chemicals in vapor to stick or cling to surfaces.

While nicotine has been shown to cause some staining, the level’s found in second-hand vapor are so low that you would probably have to vape in the same spot in your house for years to cause even slight staining.

Will vaping in the house leave a nasty smell?

Because no combustion takes place when vaping, that strong smoky smell associated with cigarettes isn’t a problem. While you might have a problem with a particular flavor of e juice and the smell it gives off, the odor doesn’t stick around for very long (due to the lack of tar in vapor).

Most of the people I speak to actually have positive things to say about the smell my vape gives off. Most of the fruity or dessert flavors have a really appealing smell and aren’t hard to be around. That being said, there have been a couple of flavors that have left a rather displeasing smell for a short time… A particularly smelly blackjack flavor of e juice had my family reaching for the fresh air spray!

Is vaping safe in the house?

The chemicals present in vapor are far fewer and less harmful than those found in cigarette smoke. This makes vaping indoors a far less risky activity than smoking. With that being said, vapor is still unhealthy and does reduce the air quality around us.

My best advice here would be to use your common sense. If you have kids in the same house I’d personally advise against vaping indoors. In the same way that you wouldn’t let a child sniff glue or breathe in the fumes from a wood fire, the vapor produced from e cigarettes is still going to be harmful to a degree.

And that’s ‘vape smoke’ in a nutshell folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed the post and found some useful information about the key differences between vapor and smoke…

Please share this post and feel free to leave a comment below! Happy Vaping!

Featured Photo courtesy of Linday Fox via Flickr (CC license)

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