What are the Main Differences Between Vapor and Smoke?

By now, most of us are aware of the fact that vaping is an alternative to smoking.  Still, despite the fact that it’s called “vaping,” many people mistakenly believe that e-liquids are turned into smoke rather than vapor.  If you didn’t know, vapor and smoke are two completely different byproducts of two different chemical reactions that both involve applying heat to a substance.  While they both have gaseous properties, the similarity pretty much ends there.

How It Absorbs

We all know that smoke is especially dangerous to one’s health because of the way in which it absorbs into bodily tissue.  It’s because of cigarette smoke’s high absorption rate that tar, one of the leading ingredients in cigarettes, can cause lung cancer.  Even though the smoke sits in the lungs for a relatively short period of time, it permeates the lung tissue, allowing it to accumulate slowly with disastrous effects.

On the other hand, vapor doesn’t absorb into bodily tissue nearly as much.  That’s because vapor evaporates extremely quickly thanks to its unique properties.  Although many of us vape as frequently as we once smoked cigarettes, the vapor that’s inhaled into the lungs is less likely to accumulate into the tissue.

How It Lingers

One of cigarette smoke's most unwelcoming properties is how it tends to cling onto everything that it comes into contact with.  The smell of tobacco smoke will stick to your hair, your clothes and your upholstery long after you put your last cigarette out. 

Vapor, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to linger on anything.  You can vape for hours at a time without risking the smell of the e-liquid sticking to your hair, clothing or other materials. 

Ingredients Matter

One of the most important differences between these two substances has to do with the ingredients that are in them.  We know that cigarette smoke contains several hundred ingredients, most of them being extremely toxic.  Cigarettes contain an abundance of health-damaging chemicals including several carcinogens that can lead to cancer.

Vapor that’s produced by e-liquid, meanwhile, contains four ingredients: propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavoring and nicotine.  Therefore, the vapor that fills the room around you is not necessarily putting you at risk compared to the smoke produced by a lit cigarette.

If you know someone who is still concerned about second-hand vapor, you can point them in the direction of a variety of recent studies such as these ones

Water Content

By nature, vapor has a higher water content.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone as e-liquid is, of course, a liquid.  The smoke that comes from a lit cigarette is produced by dried plant, meaning that its liquid content is extremely low compared to the vapor that’s produced by heated e-juice.

The water content of vapor has a lot to do with the reason why vape clouds dissipate into the air almost momentarily.  To anyone who vapes indoors, this is obviously good news.  You can exhale enormous, dense fog in a room and watch them disappear within seconds. 


Because cigarettes are lit with fire, we can assume that the resulting smoke is extremely hot.  In fact, the burning part of a cigarette reaches above 1000 F.  Meanwhile, vapor never exceeds 500 F and is never exposed to a flame.  Instead, its heat level is consistently maintained by the vaporizer device’s output settings.


The way in which carcinogenic smoke and e-liquid become their gaseous counterparts is uniquely fascinating.  Smoke from cigarettes results from combustion, meaning that it’s lit using fire.  Because of combustion, the smoke’s chemical composition isn’t the same chemical composition of unlit cigarette tobacco.  This is because combustion causes certain ingredients to oxidize.  Many of the toxic ingredients that we associate with cigarettes are produced during the combustion phase, in fact.  As smoke is the result of combustion, it’s a combination of liquid and solid air particles that combine with gases.

E-liquid doesn’t change its chemical composition when exposed to heat.  The e-liquid is heated at a low enough temperature for the resulting vapor to be identical in composition.  The vapor that we inhale is actually a cluster of suspended liquid particles that quickly fall to the ground once dispersed into the air.

What’s Left Behind

If you have ever lived with someone who smokes indoors, you know that the tar in cigarettes stains everything from countertops to curtains.  You’re probably also aware of the fact that tar is the same ingredient that causes smoker’s teeth and fingernails to become stained and yellow.

Vapor that’s produced from heated e-liquid does not stain anything.  While the ingredients in e-liquid can cause a very thin film to develop on certain surfaces, it’s not capable of changing the color of anything.  Plus, unlike cigarette stains, this film is extremely easy to wipe off. 


The way in which e-liquid is heated to become vapor allows us to enjoy a very clean, rich and nuanced flavor.  Because e-liquid isn’t exposed to the high temperatures that cigarette tobacco is exposed to, the delicate layers of flavor in e-liquids are able to be detected by the palate.  While cigarettes do technically have their own flavor profiles, they aren’t capable of providing the taste buds with such a wide variety of different flavorful notes in the way that e-juices are.

If You Haven’t Already, Consider Switching to Vaping

By simply examining the many ways in which e-liquid vapor and cigarette smoke differ, we can clearly see why vaping can be considered an alternative to smoking.