Do the Benefits of E-Cigarettes Outweigh the Risks?

Do the Benefits of E-Cigarettes Outweigh the Risks?

March 15, 2022

E-cigarettes have entered the public spotlight in recent years as they have been increasingly adopted as smoking cessation tools. Since their initial development, many claims regarding their health impact compared to conventional smoking have come out. 

But for all their supposed benefits, do the potential health outcomes outweigh the risks? Today, we will explore those claims to help readers parse facts from fiction regarding e-cigarettes

Is Vaping Less Harmful Than Smoking?

Smoking is an activity that millions of people worldwide partake in every day and one that garners millions of dollars for tobacco companies every single week. Despite the commonality of cigarette smoking and its mundanity, it's also common knowledge that smoking poses numerous adverse health outcomes ranging from lung cancer to cardiovascular diseases. Nevertheless, quitting smoking is not easy because the nicotine in cigarettes is highly addictive. 

The development and popularity of electronic cigarettes resulted, in part, due to increased public awareness about the dangers of cigarettes. First created and developed by a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik in the early 2000s, public perception views e-cigarettes as an alternative to conventional smoking.

A critically important distinction between vaping and smoking traditional cigarettes is that smoking exposes those who do it to more toxicants than vaping does. In addition to the raw economic impacts of smoking versus vaping, this fact suggests that vaping is less harmful than smoking in many ways.  

Adverse impacts include other factors besides health, such as daily cost. For those who smoke daily, cigarettes can cost thousands of pounds. Cigarettes can cost an individual user £1500-£4000 per year. In comparison, e-cigarettes are between £300-£3000 per year, depending on nicotine consumption. 

Beyond personal expenses, there are other costs to consider, such as the cost to the national economy. A report published by the International Longevity Center UK suggests that smoking costs the national economy £19 billion annually due to burdens on the healthcare system. 

The health effects, individual costs, and the burden on the national economy must all be factors in weighing the harmful impacts of smoking vs vaping.

While some perceive vaping to be just as harmful as smoking, this misconception has been refuted by governmental, academic, and medical authorities worldwide.

An article from Yorkshire Cancer Research categorically states: “Vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking. Switching completely from smoking to vaping is likely to have substantial health benefits over continued smoking.”

In 2015, a landmark UK Government study found “E-cigarettes around 95% less harmful than tobacco.”

Cancer Research UK says that “research so far shows that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking and for people who smoke, e-cigarettes are an option to help them stop”.

The articles above represent merely a small sample from the growing body of evidence that vaping is less harmful than smoking. According to Yorkshire Cancer Research: “[Vaping products] are currently one of the most widely researched scientific topics.“

Do E-Cigarettes Help Smokers Quit?

Another aspect of e-cigarettes that have been the subject of extensive scrutiny and study is that e-cigarettes are an effective smoking cessation tool. 

This claim is a fascinating one that current scholarship supports. Research published by the NHS involving a major clinical trial in 2019 found people who used e-cigarettes were more successful in their attempts to quit smoking. 

The findings of that particular trial strongly support the idea that e-cigarettes can be a critically helpful tool in quitting smoking. The study followed those who utilised e-cigarettes and expert face-to-face support. Participants using both tools were twice as likely as those who utilised other nicotine replacement methods, such as patches or gum, to quit smoking successfully. 

The NHS study is far from the only scholarship that supports the idea that e-cigarettes can play a critical and positive role in aiding those who seek to quit smoking. 

A Cochrane review of various relevant studies published in 2018 further supports these claims. Since its initial release, the researchers have updated the report with newer studies. These studies suggest that while more research is necessary to track the long-term effects of e-cigarettes, they “did not detect evidence of harm” from e-cigarette nicotine use. These studies illustrate a broad spectrum of support for the viability of e-cigarettes as a tool in smoking cessation programmes. 

The potential for e-cigarettes in helping smokers quit is critically important, given that some smokers have struggled to stop smoking with other methods. Many aspects of the experience of vaping are similar to smoking e-cigarettes. These aspects include mimicking the hand-to-mouth ritual, which is a part of smoking that most other forms of nicotine replacement are currently unable to replicate. 

This replication provides smokers with the same sensations of traditional smoking, helping ease the transition from cigarettes to e-cigarettes.

Governments worldwide acknowledge e-cigarettes’ effectiveness as a means to quit smoking.

A recent announcement from the UK government suggests that “England could [soon] be the first country in the world to prescribe medicinally licensed e-cigarettes to help reduce smoking rates”.  

According to the National Health Service in the UK: “A major UK clinical trial published in 2019 found that, when combined with expert face-to-face support, people who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking were twice as likely to succeed as people who used other nicotine replacement products, such as patches or gum.” 

Meanwhile, the Government of Canada states that “completely replacing cigarette smoking with vaping will reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals, and there are short-term general health improvements if you completely switch from smoking cigarettes to vaping products.”

What Are the Benefits of Switching From Smoking to E-Cigarettes?

Understanding the benefits of switching to vaping e-cigarettes after having smoked cigarettes can help persuade those considering making the switch. 

Protecting Susceptible Populations from Secondhand Smoking

Somewhat unsurprisingly, given that vaping exposes users to fewer toxins than smoking, the research done to date about secondhand vaping suggests that it is either not harmful to others or much less harmful than secondhand smoke.

It does not mean that secondhand vaping is not at all harmful. Indeed, there is a shortage of existing research in this area. However, research has confirmed the extensive harms and dangers of passive smoking. Knowing secondhand smoking's adverse effects can be a compelling reason to switch for many vape users to protect vulnerable populations like children and the elderly from passive smoking.

Non-Nicotine Options Now Available for E-Cigarettes

Not every e-cigarette needs or has nicotine. Many vape juice and vape flavours allow users to select cartridges that mimic the taste of cigarettes through tobacco-flavoured juices while customising the nicotine content, including 0-nicotine options. 

These alternatives to nicotine-containing cartridges can allow those who utilise e-cigarettes to explore a range of flavours beyond tobacco. They also ensure that anyone who purchases a vape pen can continue to use it even after quitting smoking cigarettes. 

The Quick Lifespan of Vapour

One of the most significant differences between the vapour produced by an e-cigarette and the smoke produced by cigarettes is the after-effects. 

Cigarette smoke has the potential to linger in an area for up to half an hour. It can expose others to secondhand smoke and create a residual odour. In contrast, the vapour produced by an e-cigarette begins to break down within seconds of being exhaled by an e-smoker. The smell from the vapour does not linger and permeate fabrics, clothing, hair, and other nearby items in the same way as cigarette smoke. 

The differences in lingering odours are crucial. Even though a smoker may leave the room, the smoke will linger for much longer. Someone who vapes and stops vaping in a room would not directly reduce air quality in it so long as they wait a few minutes.   


In the twenty years since the invention of e-cigarettes, they have exploded in popularity. Nowadays, these devices can be found everywhere, from schoolyards to shopping malls, utilised by millions of people daily. Understanding the benefits and the potential risks is critical, and existing scholarship has helped inform current trends regarding the popularity and purpose of e-cigarettes. 

Existing research clearly outlines that e-cigarettes can play an essential role in minimising the harm done by smoking. They make it easier to quit smoking and lessen the damage to the air caused by smoking. Understanding these factors may matter significantly for smokers who are considering whether or not to switch to e-cigarettes, whether they are trying to quit smoking altogether or not.

For more information on vaping, visit the RELX blog. We provide updates on the state of the industry while continuing to bring you reliable, tested vaping devices.

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