Are E-Cigarettes Any Better Than Smoking?

Health, Medical Costs

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Electronic cigarettes have grown in popularity since they arrived on the U.S. market in 2007. Also called e-cigarettes, e-cigs, e-smokes and vapes, they simulate cigarette smoking without the smell and the smoke.

Marketing campaigns have suggested that e-cigarettes are less hazardous to your health than smoking cigarettes, but the devices’ long-term effects on health have not been studied. However, they may take less of a toll on your wallet.

NerdWallet compared e-cigarettes to regular tobacco cigarettes to weigh the pros and cons of vaping.

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigs are devices that give you the sensation of smoking, including some nicotine, without the odor. There are two main types of e-cigarettes. Disposable e-cigs run on a built-in battery and come as one, single piece. Rechargeable e-cigs have batteries, chargers, e-liquid, cartridges and an atomizer. Some brands combine the cartridge and atomizer into one part, called a cartomizer or clearomizer. The liquid is sometimes combined with the battery or cartridge.

Both disposable and rechargeable vapes use a liquid containing water, nicotine, flavoring and glycerin or propylene glycol, as well as other chemicals. When a drag is taken from the e-cig, the liquid is converted into vapor, drawn into the lungs and exhaled. The vapor and smell disappear into the air within a few seconds.

Why are so many people vaping now?

Vapes are becoming more popular. With more than 460 brands available online, they’re also sold in convenience stores and supermarkets. When e-cigs first hit the market in 2007 there was little awareness of electronic nicotine. According to a Consumer Style survey, about one-third of adults were aware of e-cigarettes by 2010. In fact, four times as many adults surveyed had tried them at least once as compared to a similar survey from 2009.

What makes e-cigs more attractive?

E-cigarettes are now offered in about 7,000 flavors, ranging from the comforting essence of apple pie to the exotic style of tiger’s blood. Tobacco and menthol tobacco flavors are available if you want to mimic the taste or sensation of smoking cigarettes. In contrast, tobacco cigarettes are available in two flavors in the U.S., regular and menthol.

Vapes present fewer concerns about breaking smoking laws in public places, but there are other factors to consider. Manufacturers and distributors are marketing e-cigs as a positive alternative to smoking cigarettes because they’re cheaper, cleaner and can be smoked anywhere. Many also link vaping with quitting smoking.

Does vaping help you quit smoking?

Nicotine is an addictive substance that occurs naturally in tobacco. E-cigarette manufacturers offer products with varying levels of nicotine, including some with no nicotine. A study conducted in New Zealand found e-cigarettes to be slightly more effective than nicotine patches in helping participants quit. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, no e-cigs have been approved as therapeutic devices to help people quit smoking. The Food and Drug Administration recently added e-cigarettes to its list of items it wants to regulate, but it’s not clear whether this will happen.

Are e-cigs healthier than regular cigarettes?

Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While e-cigarettes are touted by some manufacturers as alternatives to tobacco use, they haven’t been available long enough for a long-term study on health effects.

Vapor from e-cigarettes contains some toxic substances, but a study in 2013 that tested a dozen brands of e-cigs found the toxicity levels were between nine and 450 times lower than regular cigarette smoke.

How does the cost of e-cigarettes compare to tobacco cigarettes?

E-cigs are much cheaper than tobacco cigarettes. A regular cigarette offers about 10 puffs in five to 10 minutes, and each pack has 20 cigarettes. The number of puffs that can be taken continuously with e-cigs varies. Vaping cartridges that last about 200 puffs are equivalent to about one pack of cigarettes. The cost of e-cigarettes versus regular tobacco cigarettes depends on how much and how long you smoke. The type of e-cigarette you buy greatly affects the cost.

  • The average cost of a pack of cigarettes in the U.S. is $7.04. That’s $2,569.60 per year for a pack-a-day smoker.
  • Disposable vapes cost more per cartridge, but there’s no charger, battery or e-liquid to buy and replenish. They run about $9 or $10 per e-cigarette. At an average of $9.50 apiece and an equivalent of 2.5 packs of smokes, they cost about $1,387 per year.
  • Rechargeable starter kits are initially more expensive and vary widely in price. One vendor’s prices range from $25 to $145, for example.
  • The yearly expense for a rechargeable e-cigarette for a converted pack-a-day smoker is about $2.66 per cartridge, or $605 per year. That comes out to about 227 cartridges per year.
  • You can buy liquid refills for a kit instead at about $43 per month, or $516 per year, for a pack-a-day equivalent.

While there’s little scientific data showing whether e-cigs are less harmful, they don’t have the immediate health concerns of tobacco cigarettes. Vapes are less expensive, whether you buy the disposable or rechargeable kind. E-cigs are an option if you want to try to quit smoking, but the long-term effects of health benefits and hazards are still unknown.


E-cigarette photo via Shutterstock.