Vapor vs. Smoke: What’s the Real Difference?

Is there such thing as “vape smoke”?

If you’ve been vaping for a while, you’ve probably had a lot of people asking for information about that “vape smoke” you are exhaling. Some might be concerned about its effect on health, or even if it’s the second hand vapor is dangerous. And some might just be curious.

You might have also heard the terms “vapor smoke” or “smoking vapor.” While there are a lot of visual similarities between smoke and vapor, the truth is that they’re vastly different in essence. Let’s start by taking a look at the definitions of smoke and vapor.

Definition of smoke

The Wikipedia definition of smoke is “a collection of airborne solid and liquid particulates and gases emitted when a material undergoes combustion or pyrolysis, together with the quantity of air that is entrained or otherwise mixed into the mass.”

Burning a substance drastically alters its chemical composition; smoke is made out of visible molecules of carbon, molecules of the substance that is getting burned, and other byproducts of combustion. In other words, lighting something on fire produces many substances, many of which are dangerous to inhale.

Definition of vapor

According to Wikipedia, vapor “is a substance in the gas phase at a temperature lower than its critical temperature, which means that the vapor can be condensed to a liquid by increasing the pressure on it without reducing the temperature.”

In other words, vaporizing a liquid will alter its state, but vapor will comprise the same molecules as the substance in its liquid phase.

Now technically, what is produced when we vape isn’t vapor at all, but aerosol. Wikipedia defines aerosol as “a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets, in air or another gas.” The e-liquid when vaped turns into particles suspended in air, and they fall to the ground quickly. Because the particles are liquid, rather than the solid particles in cigarette smoke, they don’t have the same risks for the lungs and cardiovascular system.

Since just about every vaper uses the (slang) term “vapor” and not the scientifically precise term “aerosol,” we’re going to stick with “vapor” too, especially since the technical difference doesn’t affect the points we’re discussing.



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