Vaping vendors often sell their products as “healthier” tobacco alternatives or a way to quit cigarettes. However, vapes still have risks and are most beneficial as a step on the journey to becoming completely smoke-free.

Vaping uses devices called e-cigarettes to turn a liquid containing nicotine, glycerin, propylene glycol, flavorings, and other chemicals into a vapor. The user then breathes this in, providing a dose of nicotine. The devices do not have United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as smoking cessation aids.

Finding a way to quit smoking is important, and for some, this may include vaping. However, vaping is not risk-free.

This article explains the effects of vaping on the body and what happens when a person switches from smoking to vaping.

Broken cigarettes, a green lighter, and a vape against a light blue backgroundShare on Pinterest
ben-bryant/Getty Images

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), evidence suggests that vaping significantly reduces a person’s exposure to toxins when compared to smoking tobacco. This applies both to the range of toxins and the doses that the vape delivers.

Vaping as a smoking cessation tool

If a person completely replaces tobacco with vaping, it may be beneficial by removing exposure to these toxins. Reduced exposure to tobacco smoke has the following benefits depending on the amount of time that a person does not smoke:

Time after the last cigaretteThe effects on the body
20 minutesThe pulse rate starts to return to normal.
8 hoursOxygen levels improve, and half the carbon monoxide leaves the bloodstream.
48 hoursCarbon monoxide has completely left the body, and the lungs are clearing out mucus. Senses of taste and smell are beginning to return to normal.
72 hoursBreathing becomes easier as the bronchial tubes in the lungs relax. Energy levels may also increase.
2–12 weeksCirculation will usually improve.
3–9 monthsLung function improves by up to 10%.
1 yearA person’s heart attack risk is half that of a current smoker.
10 yearsA person’s risk of lung cancer mortality is half that of a current smoker.

Learn more about the timeline after quitting smoking.

The risks of vaping

Little research exists on the long-term effects of vaping, and the American Heart Association (AHA) does not recommend it as a proven way to quit smoking.

The effects of vaping on this recovery timeline are unclear, and research has not yet proved vaping’s usefulness as a tool for quitting smoking, according to a 2021 review.

Vapes contain several potentially harmful chemicals, including:

  • aldehydes
  • flavorings
  • heavy metals, such as lead, nickel, and chromium
  • phenolic compounds
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • tobacco alkaloids
  • tobacco-specific nitrosamines
  • volatile organic compounds

These may damage the lungs, weaken the immune system, and affect brain development in younger users.

Learn more about vaping.

A 2020 review found that vaping can cause similar effects to smoking on the lungs and heart. However, these effects may occur to a lesser extent during vaping, although further research is necessary.

More research supports the harmful effects of smoking on lung function and the development of lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, only limited investigations into vaping’s effects on the lungs have taken place.

Vapes may contain small particles that people can breathe into the lungs. The American Lung Association highlights that young people who vape have an increased risk of coughing, wheezing, and asthma attacks. It also identified several compounds in e-liquid that carry a risk of lung damage or disease, including:

  • aldehydes, such as acetaldehyde and formaldehyde
  • acrolein, a weed killer that may cause lung injury, COPD, and asthma
  • diacetyl, which has links to severe lung diseases
  • benzene, a component of car exhaust fumes

Different smoking cessation tools are available, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in the form of gum or patches, counseling, and support services. These can guide a person toward a smoke-free life without swapping for an alternative, such as vaping, that may also harm the lungs.

Read more about vaping versus smoking.

Cigarette smoke has over 7,000 chemicals, around 70 of which have strong links to cancer development.

Vapes contain far fewer. A 2018 public health review found that the liquids in vapes contain around 60–70 compounds each, although the authors highlighted other studies that identified 113 different chemicals across 50 brands of vape liquid.

Current research does not link any of these compounds to cancer, according to a 2021 review. However, it can take over 20 years for cancer to develop in a person who has smoked throughout their life. Vaping has only gained popularity in the past eight years, so its long-term effects are not yet clear.

Learn more about the safety of e-cigarettes.

The following are answers to some questions people frequently ask about cigarettes and vaping.

Will my lungs heal if I stop smoking and start vaping?

Vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco, according to the NHS. Once a person stops smoking tobacco, lung function may improve up to 10% within nine months.

However, the lungs may heal quicker without any exposure to inhaled chemicals, and the FDA has not approved vaping as an effective smoking cessation treatment.

Quitting through approved treatments such as NRT gum or patches will help support the lungs’ healing process without putting them at risk.

How many puffs of a vape is equal to a cigarette?

This may vary depending on brand, cartridge size, and nicotine dosage. A 2016 study suggested that 15 puffs on an e-cigarette was equivalent to smoking a single cigarette.

Vaping may be less dangerous than smoking cigarettes. Switching from smoking to vaping can reduce a person’s exposure to highly toxic cigarette smoke, which may help the body to start healing.

However, some chemicals in vapes have links to lung damage and disease and their long-term effects in relation to cancer are not yet clear.

The FDA has not yet approved vaping as a safe and effective way to quit smoking. Nicotine replacement therapy, counseling, and support services can help people quit smoking without exposure to the risks of vaping. Individuals can speak with a healthcare professional for more information on how to quit smoking.