Does Vaping Cause Cancer?

/ 6 min read
Does Vaping Cause Cancer?

The links between smoking and cancer are well understood at this point. When tobacco smoke is inhaled, we take in nicotine alongside upwards of 7000 different chemicals. While some are commonly reported on such as tar, there are simply too many to count that play a role in triggering a massive range of cancers, let alone other illnesses.

It is because of these chemicals that cigarette smoke can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body. Cigarette smoking causes cancer of the mouth and throat, oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voice box (larynx), trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukaemia.

Despite the evidence pointing at these additional chemicals as the source of the harm, it is nicotine that keeps us addicted and coming back for more. Despite many differences, smoking and vaping have nicotine in common. You can learn more bout our relationship with nicotine here.

With more and more evidence mounting in favour of vaping as an alternative to smoking, many people are asking: can vaping also cause cancer? The answer isn’t black and white, but we will explore the evidence so far in this guide.

Vaping or cigarette

Are Any Cancer Cases Linked Directly to Vaping?

Currently, despite what many sensationalist headlines have purported, there have been no cases of cancer diagnosed in recent years that have been linked to vaping or e-cigarette use.

While this is the case so-far however, it is important to remember just how new vaping is compared to smoking, which has been practiced for generations. This is important because in most cases, lung cancer diagnoses caused by smoking have been typically recorded after the age of 65. Most e-cigarette users are younger by the averages – albeit not exclusively.

The above has led experts to advise people to vape with caution, stressing that while all evidence points to them being much less harmful, they are not risk free and long-term studies are thin on the ground. It could be many more years yet before we can fully understand the relationship between vaping and cancer in the way we understand it’s links to smoking.

Another factor that makes it difficult to judge vaping’s true risk factor, is the fact most vapers are ex-smokers. This of course clouds results as the development of cancer later in life may have been triggered by their old smoking habit, rather than vaping.

Can You Get Cancer As A Result of Vaping?

The answer to this very much depends on your usage. There is enough evidence available for healthcare experts, including Cancer Research UK and the NHS, to publicly state that if you are a smoker, then switching to vaping will reduce your risk of cancer. If through no other means than simply by the absence of the thousands of carcinogenic compounds in tobacco smoke.

In 2015 Public Health England stated that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking. All subsequent reports by the UK gov have maintained this fact, but it has always been offered with a caution that vaping is not risk free. As such it is never advisable to start vaping if you have never smoked.

Vaping’s best role vs cancer is to act as a harm reduction tool – never to be seen as a way of enjoying nicotine without the risk as this is simply not possible to prove. The reality we must face is that until longer term studies present evidence one way or another, we cannot accurately say if vaping causes cancer.

What we can say however is that as a smoker, your risk of getting cancer is very high. Vaping is now, according to experts, one of the best ways to mitigate this risk without threat of relapse on a quitting journey.

Cancer ribbons

Vaping & Lung, Oral & Bladder Cancer

There have ben some small studies conducted that claim to have linked vaping to certain types of cancer. The studies suggest that vaping is linked to lung cancer, oral cancers like mouth or throat, and bladder cancer.

The link has been drawn because, as acknowledged in the 29th September 2022 vaping evidence report, vaping has the potential to interrupt certain genetic behaviours in our bodies that can cause issues with cell growth. These mutations could theoretically lead to cancer; however, they are triggered by nicotine which is present in both cigarettes and e-liquid, therefore it would be unfair to claim this is an issue unique to vaping.

These studies are particularly limited in their credibility though. This is because they were conducted in animals, not humans, which means vital environmental factors linked to cancer in smokers would not be present. In addition the studies (carried out in 2017/18) exposed the animals to levels of nicotine far greater than would be typical of a normal human vaping habit.

In fact, the 2022 government report cited above goes on to say that:

“In our review of human studies, biomarkers of exposure to several human carcinogens in tobacco smoke show lower measured levels in people who vape compared with those who smoke. So, the biomarker of exposure studies compiled in this review provide conclusive evidence that vaping generally leads to lower exposure to many of the carcinogens responsible for the health risks of smoking.”

Is Passive Vaping Harmful?

There is no good evidence that second-hand vapour from e-cigarettes is harmful. As vapes are still relatively new, we can’t be sure there aren’t any long-term effects to people who breathe in someone else’s vapour. But this is unlikely to be harmful.

Passive vaping is not the same as passive smoking. This is because e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco. Air quality studies have been carried out in vaping conventions to assess the impact on attendees and overall it was found that exposure to a negligible amount of nicotine was the worst one could expect.

More data would help strengthen the argument, however to-date passive vaping is considered to be massively less harmful than passive smoking.

NRT

Does Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) Carry Less Risk of Cancer Than Vaping?

The two are often compared, and generally experts are in agreement that one of the best ways to quit is by combining vaping, NRT and regular support. In terms of medical risk however, they are considered the same, if not better for you than patches or gums.

Over the years before strict quality control laws were brought in, some potentially dangerous chemicals have been found in vapes, and some still contain traces at levels kept well below legal safe thresholds. As stated by Cancer Research UK:

“Some potentially dangerous chemicals have been found in e-cigarettes. But levels are usually low and generally far lower than in tobacco cigarettes. Exposure may be the same as people who use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as patches or gum.”

“There is no good evidence that vaping causes cancer.”

“But e-cigarettes are not risk-free. They have only become popular recently, so we don’t know what effects they might have in the long term. They should only be used to help you stop smoking, or to stop you going back to tobacco. If you have never smoked, you shouldn’t use e-cigarettes.”