• Medical definition of smoke(v): to inhale and exhale the fumes of burning plant material and especially tobacco.
• Medical definition of vaporize(v): to convert from a liquid or solid into a vapor.
From their medical definitions alone, it’s pretty obvious that smoking and vaporizing are not the same thing. Electronic cigarettes were designed as a safer alternative to traditional tobacco smoking. Many look like real cigarettes and mimic the same rituals including the inhalation and exhalation of a smoke-like aerosol vapor. However, there are some key differences that distinguish vaping from smoking.
• E-cigarettes do not involve the use of fire, but rather a heated coil.
• Unlike tobacco, combustion is not involved in the vaporizing of e-liquid.
• Vapor does not leave a stinky smell on fabrics or skin.
• Vaping doesn’t produce any sidestream smoke or vapor.
• E-cig vapor has a completely different chemical composition than cigarette smoke and contains far fewer toxins at much lower levels.
In order to smoke a cigarette, one must light the end of a tobacco filled, pre-rolled paper tube with a flame. Tobacco may also be smoked by being packed into the bowl of a pipe and lit with a lighter. Electronic cigarettes, on the other hand, do not require a lighter or flame in order to be operated. They simply involve a liquid solution heated into a vapor using a battery-powered atomizer.
The only time the use of fire is involved with e-cigarettes is during the more wick oxidation process of rebuilding one’s own atomizer. In order to remove any manufacturing impurities from a rebuildable wick, advanced vapers will torch the material with a high powered flame.
Oxford Definition of combustion(n): the process of burning something. In Chemistry it is the rapid chemical combination of a substance with oxygen, involving the production of heat and light.
Because electronic cigarettes don’t involve the use of a flame during operation, they produce a much lower heat than a lit cigarette and therefore don’t involve combustion. An atomizer coil made from resistance wire is fed a current from a battery causing it to heat up to a temperature hot enough to vaporize a flavored e-liquid. Yes, the coil may glow on a dry wick but in the presence of liquid it only heats up. Temperature varies and depends on the resistance of the wire and battery voltage but can average in the ballpark of 200 degrees F.
Smoking alternatively uses a flame to combust pieces of tobacco leaves along with thousands of added chemicals into smoke. Temperatures of a lit cigarette coal climb up to around 1,200 degrees fahrenheit, much hotter than those of e-cigs. It is possible for tobacco leaves to be vaporized but the vapor would still contain about 5 percent smoke. In the absence of combustion of the over 7000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, e-cig vapor will also not leave an odor behind on fabrics or skin.
No Sidestream Vapor
There are two ways second hand smoke is spread to bystanders. The first is the more obvious exhalation of smoke by the user after taking a puff from a cigarette. Referred to as mainstream smoke, it is usually passed through a filter in the cigarette butt to remove some of the tar produced during combustion before it is inhaled and exhaled into the surrounding air. Sidestream smoke is actually more dangerous as it is unfiltered and is usually more prevalent, especially in smokers who take longer breaks between puffs.
Electronic cigarettes contain no sidestream vapor, as there is no lit end of an e-cig and the user inhales nearly all of the vaporized liquid.
Speaking of chemicals, cigarette smoke contains far more chemicals than vaporized e-liquid. In general, most combusted smoke produces the highly poisonous carbon monoxide. In some cases, CO poisoning can cause death. Cigarettes contain up to 17.4mg of CO and put out about 10 times more carbon monoxide than most car exhausts. Electronic cigarette vapor, on the contrary, has been found to not produce any detectable levels of carbon monoxide.
In addition to CO, cigarette smoke contains more than 7000 constituents, nearly 600 of which are additives. Some of these include ammonia for increased nicotine absorption, arsenic, acetone, methanol, cadmium and tar. 69 ingredients found in cigarette smoke are known to cause cancer.
Electronic cigarette liquid typically only contains propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, GRAS flavoring, and optional nicotine. Flavorings can include malic acid (fruit/sour), acetylpyrazine (chocolate), vanillin and menthol. Vapor from liquid containing nicotine can also contain trace amounts of tobacco specific nitrosamines, albeit at levels below limits of detection and up to 1,400 times lower than in cigarette smoke. E-cig vapor also contains only six of the 20 volatile organic compounds found in cigarette smoke and at much lower levels.
Other Examples of Smoke and Vapor
It’s pretty obvious at this point that smoke is produced by burning something whereas vapor is produced by heat. Just because something is vaporized does not make it safe, however. Smoke and vapor can occur in many forms and be commonly found in everyday living. Other examples of smoke can occur as a result of burning wood, matches, candles, flora, and incense. Vapor can also be produced from asthma inhalers, colognes and perfumes, water on the earth’s surface (fog), boiling liquid and hot tea and coffee.
Because e-cigarettes don’t involve the use of a flame or combustion, vaping can’t be considered the same as smoking. Furthermore, electronic cigarettes don’t produce any sidestream smoke or vapor and operate using far less heat than the lit end of a cigarette. E-cig vapor does still contain a few of the VOCs and TSNAs found in cigarette smoke, but at far lesser levels. However, its appearance will understandably lead many people to believe that it is no different than smoke, just as the marine layer creeping onto coastal communities at night has a similar appearance to that of smoke from a burning brushfire.