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Smoking vs. Vaping: Chemicals

Andrew Forbell


Aside from the stench of tobacco cigarette smoke vs. the non-offensive or usually pleasant scents associated with vaping, burning tobacco generates a smoke that is a toxic cocktail of chemicals that affect not only the smoker, but others as well.

Chemicals in tobacco cigarette smoke

  • Acetaldehyde: suspected carcinogen.
  • Acetone: irritant: can cause kidney and liver damage.
  • Acrolein: extremely toxic.
  • Acrylonitrile: suspected human carcinogen.
  • 1-aminonaphthalene: causes cancer.
  • 2-aminonaphthalene: causes bladder cancer.
  • Ammonia: raises blood pressure.
  • Benzene: carcinogen.
  • Benzo[a]pyrene: mutagenic and highly carcinogenic
  • 1,3-Butadiene: suspected carcinogen.
  • Butyraldehyde: damages the lining of nose and lungs.
  • Cadmium: a heavy metal and highly toxic
  • Carbon Monoxide: decreases heart and muscle function.
  • Catechol: causes respiratory tract irritation and dermatitis.
  • Chromium: heavy metal and carcinogen.
  • Cresol: causes upper respiratory, nasal and throat irritation.
  • Crotonaldehyde: thought to interfere with immune function.
  • Formaldehyde: carcinogen
  • Hydrogen Cyanide: lethal poison
  • Hydroquinone: affects central nervous system effects.
  • Isoprene: irritates skin,eyes and mucous membranes.
  • Lead: causes brain damage
  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone: depresses the central nervous system.
  • Nickel: causes bronchial asthma and is a known carcinogen.
  • Nicotine: increases in heart rate and blood pressure, addictive element
  • Nitric Oxide: linked to Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and asthma.
  • NNN, NNK, and NAT: known or possible carcinogens
  • Phenol: damages the the liver, kidneys; respiratory, cardiovascular and central nervous system.
  • Polonium - radioactive*
  • Propionaldehyde: skin, eye and respiratory system irritant
  • Pyridine: causes eye and upper respiratory tract irritation
  • Quinoline: causes genetic damage and is a possible carcinogen
  • Resorcinol: skin and eye irritant
  • Styrene: carcinogen
  • Toluene: linked to permanent brain damage. 

... and thousands of other chemicals. No wonder I was feeling the way I was and it's amazing so many smokers get to live as long as they do.

* Australian scientist Dr Karl Kruszelnicki says the polonium released in tobacco cigarettes is the equivalent to 200 chest x-rays a year for people who smoke a pack of cigarettes every day.

Chemicals in ecig vapors

Compare that partial list with chemicals and compounds in e-cigarette vapours

  • Nicotine
  • Propylene glycol (not Ethylene glycol - which is toxic). Used in asthma inhalers and nebulizers.  An experiment using animals determined "air containing these vapors in amounts up to the saturation point is completely harmless". The USA FDA has classified propylene glycol as "generally recognized as safe".
  • Vegetable glycerol - low toxicity. Used in medications, cosmetic and food items.

The only other chemicals are in the flavourings, which (if coming from a reputable merchant) are food grade and generally recognised as safe. By volume, flavours make up a very small percentage of eliquids.
smoking vs. vaping eliquid

However, it needs to be stated that food flavorings are designed to be digested, not vaporised and inhaled and the effects of using food flavors in such a way over a long period are yet to be established.

That said, very few carcinogenic chemicals have been found in e-cigarette vapours, and those present only appear to be in trace quantities - far less than in burning tobacco and similar or less than in recognised nicotine replacement therapies.

Unlike cigarette smoke, nearly all of the nicotine is absorbed in vaping.

Medical research:

Dr Joel Nitzkin, Chair of the Tobacco Control Task Force for the American Association of Public Health Physicians, believes the hazards posed by e-cigarettes would be much lower than one percent of that posed by smoking tobacco cigarettes.

In fact, the AAPHP states:

"Substances in the cigarette smoke, other than the nicotine, inhaled deep into the lung, cause most  of the tobacco-attributable illness and death in the United States."

The AAPHP recommends electronic cigarettes as a less hazardous smoke-free tobacco/nicotine product.

Ecigs are a viable harm reduction device, one that more smokers need to know about.

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