Smoking is getting more and more expensive every year. As governments around the world bring down the hammer of taxation on the “sinful” habit of smoking, the price of a pack of twenty just keeps on increasing.
Meanwhile, despite some scattered attempts to tax vaping products (and more sure to come in the near future), e-cigarettes and e-liquids have largely escaped this price hike, and one of the main motivations for making the switch is to save money in comparison to smoking.
But do you really save money by switching? And if so, how much will you save? What’s the cheapest type of device to use?
We’ve taken a look at the numbers to put together this smoking vs. vaping cost comparison.
The Cost of Smoking
How much does a smoker spend each year? Well, it varies depending on your state, as well as on the brand you smoke and how much you smoke, but to simplify things we're just going to use the average cost for a pack-a-day smoker.
The Awl has made compiling the cost of smoking in different US states something of an annual tradition, and in their post for 2015, they calculated an average cost for a pack of Marlboro Red across the US as $7.26, ranging from $4.98 in Virginia right up to $13.50 in New York.
For a pack-a-day smoker, this puts the average cost (to the nearest dollar) at about $2,650. Depending on which state you're in, it can range from $1,818 to $4,928.
So these are the costs we’ll be using for a year of smoking. One thing is immediately clear: smoking is expensive, especially in states like New York.
How We Estimated the Cost of Vaping
Inspired by a post on Vape Emporium doing the same thing using UK figures, we’ll be using three different setups to look at the cost of vaping for a year. The amount you spend on vaping each year can vary a lot, and generally speaking the type of device you opt for has a big part to play in this.
Additionally, higher-power devices tend to be paired with more efficient tanks and atomizers, and as a result, the amount of e-juice you get through each day tends to increase. As well as the limited information about how much juice vapers get through a day, this causes additional problems when it comes to estimating how much a year of vaping will cost.
Thankfully, there are two surveys in particular which are quite useful in making estimates. The E-Cigarette Forum’s “Big Survey” for 2014 includes data on how much e-juice vapers get through each day – with the most common responses being 2 to 3 and 4 to 5 ml per day – and one large survey of vapers conducted by Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, which found an average consumption of 3 ml per day. For cigalike users who’d quit smoking, the average number of cartridges per day was found to be 2, but this varied between 1 and 3 cartridges.
This latter survey suggested that mod users tend to get through more e-liquid, and this point is also backed up by a different survey from Dr. Farsalinos, which had a larger percentage of mod users and found an average of 4 ml consumed per day. These surveys are both a little old, though, before the explosion in sub-ohm tanks.
So, putting this all together, we’ll be basing the smoking vs. vaping cost comparison on three different devices, with an estimated e-liquid / cartridge consumption for each.
A V2 Cigs brand cigalike, with an average of 2 cartridges consumed per day.
A Kanger Subvod, with an estimated juice consumption of 4 ml per day.
An eVic VT mod, with an estimated juice consumption of 5 ml per day.
These are just estimates, though, and they’re limited by our interpretation of the surveys linked to above. We think this is pretty fair, but we’ll also compare them using an equal e-liquid consumption across types, at 3 ml (or three cartridges) per day.
The final issue is how much you’ll pay for e-juice for the latter two devices. This is very hard to estimate, but we’re going to do it in two ways. First, we’ll use the prices from Mt. Baker Vapor, because they’re a large company that makes affordable (and actually tasty) juice. From Mt. Baker, you’ll pay $7.49 for a 30 ml bottle. Secondly, we’ll use the average cost from the top 10 in our best e-juice flavors list, which was voted for by our readers and yielded an average of $18 for a 30 ml bottle. This is basically how much it will cost to vape “premium” e-liquid.
How Much Does it Cost to Vape for a Year?
Scenario One: Cigalike Device
A V2 Cigs brand starter kit – the Standard Kit – costs $39.95, and comes with ten cartridges. Each additional five-pack of cartridges costs $9.95.
If you consume 2 cartridges per day, you’ll get through around 730 cartridges a year. Minus the 10 included with the kit, this means you’ll need to buy 144 five-packs of cartridges in a year, for an additional cost of around $1,433.
So, the total cost of vaping a cigalike device for a year would be $1,473 (to the nearest dollar).
Compared to a year of smoking, you'll save $1,177 by vaping this way (and more if you bought bigger packs of cartridges). For smokers in Virginia, the saving would reduce to $345, but for smokers in New York it would rise to a massive $3,455.
If you vape an average of three cartridges per day (heavy use), this would cost $2,199 per year, for an average saving of $451 a year.
Scenario Two: eGo-Style Device
For vapers using the Kanger Subvod or a similar device, the start-up cost for the kit is around $38.95. This includes a device and a tank, with one coil, and spares available for $12.95 for a five-pack. Assuming that a coil will last you for around two weeks of vaping, you’ll need 26 coils per year, which is five packs of five coils in addition to the one you get with the kit.
So the total hardware cost will be around $104 for the year.
Adding in e-liquid, getting through 4 ml per day would mean 1,460 ml per year, or about 49 bottles (30 ml) of juice a year. With Mt. Baker’s prices, this would mean $367 per year on juice. With prices more like the premium juices from our list, it would be $882 per year.
Putting this all together, the cost would be $471 per year with standard juices and $986 per year with what our readers voted the best juices on the market. These represent savings in comparison to smoking of $1,664 to $2,179 per year. If you live in Virginia, the savings are between $832 and $1,347 per year, and if you live in New York, they’re between $3,942 and $4,457.
Changing the assumption to 3 ml per day would make it $381 for cheaper juices and $770 for premium juices. The average saving in comparison to cigarettes would then be $1,880 to $2,269 per year.
This means a total hardware cost of $130 for the year.
Using 5 ml of juice per day would mean a total of 1,825 ml per year, or 61 bottles. For Mt. Baker Vapor-like prices, this would cost you $457 per year, and for premium prices, it would be about $1,098 per year.
So the total cost would be between $587 and $1,228 per year. For the average cost of cigarettes in the US, this represents a saving of between $1,422 and $2,063 per year. In Virginia, you’d save between $590 and $1,231 per year, and for New York, you’d save between $3,700 and $4,341 per year.
At a 3 ml per day e-liquid consumption the cost would decrease to between $407 and $796, for average savings of $1,854 to $2,243 per year.
Smoking vs. Vaping – Cost Comparison
Based on the scenarios above, the best option for new vapers on a budget is to use affordable juices alongside a second-generation device, and this is true whether you use estimated juice consumption based on the type of device or just assume all vapers have 3 ml per day.
The situation for the estimated consumption with each type of device (compared to cigarettes on the left) is shown below:
Here, vaping eGo-style devices with affordable e-liquid is about 82 percent cheaper than smoking. Additionally, you can see that the biggest factor is the juice, rather than whether you use mods or eGo-style e-cigs.
If you assume an equal juice consumption (3 ml / three cartridges per day) for each type of device, it looks like this:
It goes without saying that there are some limitations to this approach. The biggest relates to the juice, both the amount you will consume per day – since there is only limited evidence and it varies quite a lot – and how much you’ll spend on each bottle.
Still, it’s clear that there is a big difference between smoking and vaping, regardless of the situation. Apart from excessive use of cigalikes, you don’t have much of a chance of getting anywhere near the cost of smoking. If we assumed you need to change coils twice a week, and you went through 10 ml a day of more expensive e-liquid using a mod setup, you’d still save over $100 in comparison to smoking. While it would be technically possible to spend more on vaping, you’d literally be vaping like a king, all of the time.
If you want to make vaping cheaper, there are tons of ways to do this, but the two biggest possibilities are mixing your own e-juice and making your own coils. I won’t attempt to estimate a year’s expense if you’re doing this, but it drastically reduces the amount you need to spend on juice and coils, so the cost savings will become really huge.
Vaping is Over 80% Cheaper and 95% Safer Than Smoking
The case for e-cigarettes from a cost perspective is solid. You can use high-end devices and still save over 50% compared to the price of cigarettes, and if you’re vaping as cheaply as possible, the savings increase to over 80% or even more than that. And from a health perspective, e-cigarettes are substantially safer than smoking too – 95% safer, according to Public Health England’s estimate – so switching is a great decision for both your health and your wallet.