Smoking vs. vaping –— What you need to know

The effects of smoking and cigarettes have been known for some time. From chronic illnesses to birth defects in unborn children, cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable deaths in Canada.

Dr. Katherine Ker, Lead Physician of the Family Medicine Teaching Unit at North York General Hospital, says the long-term effects of smoking can lead to many different illnesses and can ultimately lead to death if conditions worsen.

Dr. Katherine Ker, Lead Physician of the Family Medicine Teaching Unit, North York General Hospital

Dr. Katherine Ker, Lead Physician of the Family Medicine Teaching Unit, North York General Hospital

However, the introduction of e-cigarettes and “vaping” has offered hope to smokers wishing to find a less damaging alternative, and potentially a quitting aide.

But what are e-cigarettes and are they really a better choice?

man vaping

E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) are electronic devices comprised of a battery, an atomizer (a heating element), and a tank or cartridge containing a solution. The heater heats the solution, turning it into vapour that the smoker inhales.

The solution, often referred to as e-juice or e-liquid, may or may not contain nicotine but it does not contain tobacco. In Canada, e-cigarettes and “e-liquids” containing nicotine have not been approved for sale, but they are widely available. The solution also typically contains glycerin and flavouring agents.

When an e-cigarette is “smoked” there is no combustion, which is the primary difference between an e-cigarette and a tobacco cigarette.

The better choice?

“E-cigarettes are still relatively new to the market,” says Dr. Ker. “The long-term effects have not yet been studied to learn the true effects of smoking e-cigarettes or vaping, or the effects of second hand smoke in e-cigarettes.”

However, it is widely believed that e-cigarettes are likely to be substantially less harmful than tobacco cigarettes. Since e-cigarettes do not involve combustion, the vapour contains far fewer toxic chemicals than tobacco smoke, including most of the carcinogens present in tobacco smoke. However, the long-term health effects of vaping have not been examined and are therefore unknown at this time.

Keeping patients safe

In 2013, North York General Hospital took an important step towards preserving the health of its patients, visitors, staff, physicians, volunteers and community by becoming 100% smoke free. This decision was in anticipation of the provincial government's legislation.

On January 1, 2016, the Smoke-Free Ontario Act prohibited smoking on all hospital grounds. “We take our responsibility for the health of our patients, visitors, staff, physicians and volunteers very seriously, both inside the hospital and on our property,” says Cliff Harvey, Vice President, Planning, Facilities and Support Services. “Our mission is to uphold the law and ensure no one uses tobacco or nicotine-based products on hospital grounds.”

The act was established to improve the health of Ontarians. According to the Smoke-Free Ontario website, each year tobacco claims 13,000 lives in Ontario — that equals 36 lives every day and tobacco-related disease costs Ontario's health care system an estimated $2.2 billion in direct health care costs. Failing to comply with the law could result in a financial penalty, which is enforced by provincial enforcement officers.

Go to Smoke-Free NYGH to learn more, view maps that delineate smoke-free zones at the General site and Branson Ambulatory Care Centre, and read our frequently asked questions. 

This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of The Pulse.

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