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There is a lot of talk about whether or not vaping is as dangerous as smoking is. We at DC Alchemy aren’t going to debate whether it is or not; instead, we’re just going to outline the difference between vaping and smoking, as the two trends are vastly different, despite both being centered about inhaling substances.


Simply put, vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol or vapor. There is no smoke involved.

Vaping started gaining popularity in the early 2000s, but the first e-cigarette was conceptualized in 1927 by Joseph Robinson. Robinson wanted to create a device that safely delivered nicotine to a person’s system. His design, which is similar to the modern e-cigarette, was never produced.

It wasn’t until 2003 did the first e-cigarette hit the U.S. market. Designed by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik, the first vaping product was meant to help people quit smoking. Lik’s father died of lung cancer and Lik himself was not having any luck kicking his smoking habit. That was the driving force behind his e-cigarette design.

Since 2003, vaping has evolved to include a variety of products: from e-cigarettes, vape pens, advanced personal vaporizers (also known as MODS), JUULs, and CCELLs.

The function of a vape product is the same regardless of the design. A vaping device consists of a mouthpiece, a battery, a cartridge, and a heating element. When the device is used, the battery heats up the heating component, which turns the oil in the cartridge into aerosol. The user then inhales the aerosol and exhales it.


    Not all vaporizers are e-cigarettes.

    The biggest difference between e-cigarettes and other vaporizers is the oil inside of them. E-cigarettes are single-use and only deliver nicotine to a person’s symptoms.

    Many people use vapes for medical purposes, not to fuel an addiction. Vape pens, MODS, CCELLs, etc., allow the user to vape substances such as medical marijuana distillate (THC) and CBD oil.


    Vaping is not without risks, though they are significantly less severe than smoking. The largest contributor to risk is vitamin E acetate, which is not safe for humans to inhale. It is extremely thick and can cause a gum-like substance to form in the users respiratory system. Regulated wholesalers of vape oil or distillates will never sell products with vitamin E acetate.

    Another, rather defunct, risk is known as “popcorn lung.” It is caused by a common e-cigarette flavoring ingredient diacetyl. However, diacetyl is found in such small amounts in e-cigarette products that no incidents of vaping-related popcorn lung have been reported in the United States.

    Studies have not shown any negative side effects from second-hand vaping.


Smoking is done by lighting one end of the product on fire and inhaling through the other end. The interior of the cigar or cigarette will lightly burn and produce a smoke, which is then breathed in by the user.  Smokers commonly use cigarettes and cigars to absorb tobacco and nicotine into their bloodstream.

Smoking is an ancient practice that dates back to 5000 BC in shamanistic rituals. It was popularized with tobacco in the 1600s and revived in the late 1700s in America. In 2018, it is estimated that nearly 34.2 million Americans smoke.


    Smoking negatively impacts nearly all of your body’s natural functions and can be fatal. Every year in the U.S., more than 480,000 people die from tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that smoking causes about 90% of all lung cancer deaths. Smoking causes about 80% of all deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

    Smoking cigarettes can cause your body to absorb tar, acetone, acetic acid, lead, formaldehyde, and more.

    Smoking increases the risk for developing the following:

    • Coronary heart disease
    • Strokes
    • Cancer (lung, leukemia, cervix, kidney, and more)
    • Degradation of overall health
    • Yellowing of nails and teeth
    • Hair loss
    • Complications during pregnancy
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Cataracts
    • Lower fertility

    Smoking medical marijuana is significantly safer to smoke than nicotine or tobacco products due to how it is processed, regulated, and sold. Medical marijuana is highly regulated and should be pure, without additives and chemicals. It does not contain carcinogens like tobacco products do.

    Medical marijuana is also inhaled differently than tobacco products. Marijuana is most commonly smoked using pipes, bongs, paper-wrapped joints, or blunts.

    It is not without risks, however. Inhaling smoke is always harmful to your lungs, no matter what you’re smoking.

It also causes secondhand smoke, which is where those around you breathe in the smoke too. It causes an estimated 41,000 deaths a year.


Despite sharing the same delivery method, vaping and smoking are vastly different due to what they produce and what substance is inhaled.

No matter what, inhaling smoke is always harmful to your lungs. How harmful it is depends on how much your smoke, your delivery method, and what you smoke.

Vaping risks are typically related to the inhaled substance, not the vapor released by the hardware. If you’re curious about the safety of vaping products and how they are tested, check out our previous blog.