Vaping Safer than combustible cigarettes (Government of Canada)

The Tobacco, E-cigarettes and Vaping Products Act (TVPA) became law on May 23, 2018. Adults can now legally get vaping products with nicotine as a less harmful option than smoking.

If you are a smoker, quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to improve your health. There is support available to help you quit.

Completely replacing cigarette smoking with a vaping product will reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.

If you are not a smoker, vaping can increase your exposure to some harmful substances that could negatively affect your health.

About vaping

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling a vapour produced by a vaping product, such as an electronic cigarette. This vapour is often flavoured and can contain nicotine.

Vaping products consist of:

  • consumables (such as liquid solutions)
  • vaping devices (including any parts used with those devices)

Vaping products have many names, such as:

  • mods
  • vapes
  • e-cigs
  • sub-ohms
  • vape pens
  • e-hookahs
  • tank systems
  • electronic cigarettes
  • electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)

Vaping devices

Most vaping devices consist of a:

  • battery
  • mouthpiece
  • heating element
  • chamber (a tank or reservoir to contain a liquid solution)

Most devices use electrical power from a battery to heat a liquid solution, which becomes vaporized. The vapour then condenses into an aerosol, which is inhaled by the user through the mouthpiece.

Vaping devices are now available in many shapes and sizes. Some are small and look like USB drives or pens, while others are much larger.

Some products are “open,” meaning they can be refilled, while others are “closed.” If a product is closed, either the whole product, or the part that holds the vaping substances, can’t be refilled.

Vaping liquids and substances

Most vaping substances are flavoured and can contain nicotine. Most vaping substances on the market today are liquids, but some are offered as wax, salts or herbs.

In vaping liquids, the nicotine and/or the flavouring compounds are suspended in a liquid mixture. This mixture is typically propylene glycol and/or glycerol (vegetable glycerin).

In the vaping substances that contain nicotine, the level of nicotine can vary widely. Some mixtures have very low levels of nicotine, while others can contain more nicotine than in a typical tobacco cigarette.

Flavouring compounds consist of chemicals and blends of chemicals to simulate different flavours.

Contents of vaping vapour

Vaping products produce a vapour that contains many chemicals. The ingredients typically found in vaping liquids are also found in the vapour. These include:

  • glycerol
  • flavours
  • propylene glycol
  • nicotine (possibly)

Vaping doesn’t require burning, unlike cigarette smoking, but the vaping process requires the vaping substance to be heated.

If you are a smoker: vaping vs smoking

Vaping is less harmful than smoking. Many of the toxic and cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco and the tobacco smoke form when tobacco is burned.

Vaping products do not contain tobacco and do not involve burning or produce smoke. Except for nicotine, vaping products typically only contain a fraction of the 7,000 chemicals found in tobacco or tobacco smoke, and at lower levels.

Switching from tobacco cigarettes to vaping products will reduce a person’s exposure to many toxic and cancer-causing chemicals.

As a step towards quitting cigarettes, many smokers may go through a transition period when they use both cigarettes and vaping products. Studies have shown short-term general health improvements in those who have completely switched from smoking cigarettes to vaping products.

Vaping as a quit-smoking aid

Quitting smoking can be difficult, but it is possible. Vaping products and e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in a less harmful way than smoking, and may reduce health risks for smokers who are unwilling or unable to:

  • quit on their own or
  • quit using approved nicotine replacement therapies (such as gums, lozenges and patches) or medication
  • quit using counselling

While evidence is still emerging, some evidence suggests that e-cigarette use is linked to improved rates of success when quitting.

Support and tools for quitting smoking

Talk to your doctor for support and advice towards a smoke-free life.

You can also find additional help to quit smoking by:

  • visiting the quit smoking website for your province or territory
  • calling 1-866-366-3667

Risks of vaping

If you are not a smoker, vaping can increase your exposure to some harmful chemicals, that could negatively affect your health. Vaping could also expose you to nicotine which is addictive.

There are also concerns about the appeal of vaping products among youth and their potential to promote tobacco use.

If you are a smoker, vaping is a less harmful option than smoking.

The amount of substances (including nicotine) a person can be exposed to by vaping is affected by the:

  • battery power
  • type of vaping liquid and amount of nicotine
  • type of vaping device
  • settings on the device
  • combination of internal components

Health risks of vaping with nicotine

Nicotine is not known to cause cancer. It is approved for use in nicotine replacement therapies, such as the patch or nicotine gum. However, there are risks linked to nicotine.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Vaping product use could result in symptoms of dependence.Footnote7

Children and youth are especially susceptible to the negative effects of nicotine, including addiction. Nicotine is known to alter brain development and can affect memory and concentration. It may also predispose youth to addiction to nicotine and possibly other drugs.Footnote8 Footnote9

In some cases, vaping liquid containers have enough nicotine to be poisonous to young children.

Children must be prevented from getting vaping liquid and vaping product safety is regulated by Health Canada.

Health risks of other chemicals in vaping

There are health risks linked to other chemicals found in vaping products.

The main liquids in vaping products (vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol) are considered safe for use in many consumer products (cosmetics and sweeteners). The long-term safety of inhaling these substances in vaping products is unknown and continues to be assessed.

There is no burning during vaping, unlike during smoking, but the vaping process requires the liquid to be heated. This process can cause reactions and create new chemicals (such as aldehydes). Some contaminants (such as metals) might also get into the vaping products and then into the vapour.

The types and levels of these chemicals and contaminants can vary based on the type of device and the way the device is used. It has been shown that using vaping products with higher power and temperature settings can produce more chemicals. Some of these chemicals and contaminants are linked to negative health effects. However, they are normally at low levels in vapour, and much lower than in cigarette smoke. To date, the level of metals found in vaping product vapours isn’t considered cause for significant safety concerns.Footnote14

Second-hand vapour

Bystanders can also be exposed to vapour that is exhaled by users. The health effects to non-users from exposure to second-hand vapour are still unknown. However, given the low levels of chemicals in vapour compared to tobacco smoke, risks are also expected to be much lower.

So, as a precaution, Health Canada recommends that users be cautious around non-users and youth.

There is only limited evidence that e-cigarette use increases the level of nicotine and other chemicals on indoor surfaces.Footnote15

Device malfunctions

Injuries from vaping product malfunctions, including explosions and fires, have occurred. For more information on product safety requirements, and how to protect yourself, read about vaping product safety and regulation.

Vaping in Canada: what we know

We use a variety of tools to:

  • assess the size of the vaping product market
  • understand how Canadians are using these products
  • keep on top of the latest science and research on vaping

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