Vaping addiction and health risks, the difference between smoking and vaping


3 minutes

05 July 2023

A person vaping

Vaping is increasing in popularity with adults and under-18s alike. So, what are the health risks involved in using e-cigarettes?

To gain a clearer picture, we chat with Dr Lexi Frydenberg, General Paediatrician, Director of Victorian Children's Clinic, and professional speaker on the topic, to find out what the known risks are.

In this article:

What is vaping, and how is it different to smoking? 

Vapes, slang for e-cigarettes, are lithium battery-operated devices designed to deliver vapourised liquids to the lungs when inhaled and the smoking of e-cigarettes is known as ‘vaping’.1 These products can contain higher volumes of nicotine than cigarettes, and those that are labelled ‘nicotine-free’ are by no means less harmful.

While many mistakenly believe vaping is merely harmless water vapour, Dr Frydenberg says vaping products make a mist (an aerosol) which is a fine spray of tiny toxic particles.

“These chemicals/particles can stay in the lungs and also enter the body through the lungs,” says Dr Frydenberg.

With cigarette smoking, tobacco is burned to release the nicotine in the tobacco leaf. With vaping, a liquid is heated below the point of combustion to release vapour, which is inhaled.

The current use of e-cigarettes has increased from 1.2% in 2016 to 2.6% in 2019, with the most significant increases observed among young people.1

Vaping addiction to assist with nicotine withdrawal

Currently, there is not enough evidence supporting the use of nicotine e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. 

“Given the known risks as well as the unknown health impacts, organisations such as Lung Foundation Australia and Quit do not support the use of nicotine and e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool,” says Dr Frydenberg.  

Data shows increasing cigarette prices and extensive smoke-free policies saw the number of Aussies who smoked daily drop to 11.6% in 2019 - a decrease of 25% since 1991. Fast forward to 2022 however, and a study by Australian National University shows that most e-cigarette use is not for quitting smoking, most of it is done in tandem with smoking and most users are young people who are now at greatly increased risk of smoking uptake.4

What are the current health concerns?

E-cigarette use is a very new phenomenon, and there has been a very rapid rise in usage and uptake, particularly in young people.

“There is a lot we do not know yet- particularly with regards to long-term health effects.” Says Dr Frydenberg

That said, there is plenty we do know, and whether you use products marked as containing nicotine or not, they still carry the risk of lung and respiratory issues including asthma, coughs and lung irritation.

Dr Frydenberg says e-cigarettes and vapours can contain many harmful substances, and there is very little quality control and regulation, so you usually do not know what the liquid contains.

“E-cigarettes heat liquid very quickly and there have been cases of exploding devices and serious burns.” 

Vaping with nicotine products carry additional risks, and E-liquids can contain nicotine, even when labelled ‘nicotine free,’ as they are currently unregulated. 

  • Nicotine is highly addictive.
  • Short-term effects can include increased breathing rate, nausea, vomiting, mouth and airway irritation, chest pain and heart palpitations. 
  • Nicotine can harm the developing brain and have impacts on learning, memory, attention over longer term use.
  • Nicotine has also been linked to harmful effects on reproductive health, including on the development of unborn babies’ lungs.
  • Accidently swallowing e-cigarette liquid can lead to nicotine poisoning. This can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, slowing of heart rate and breathing rate, and in extreme cases- death.

Talking to your teen about vaping

Quit has put together a collection of guides, videos, and case studies to help parents and teens navigate vaping – both the pressures and the risks.

In Australia, around 14% of 12 to 17-year-olds have tried an e-cigarette, with around 32% of these students having used one in the past month.2

A major study by The Cancer Council3 found more than half of all children who had ever vaped had used an e-cigarette they knew contained nicotine and thought that vaping was a socially acceptable behaviour. Making the vaping conversation with your teen an important conversation to have.

  • Start the conversation as early as possible.
  • Talk in a calm and relaxed environment and manner.
  • Encourage honest questions.

Be prepared with the facts. If you don’t know the answer or you don’t feel confident, have some resources at the ready so you can read them together.

Support to help you quit smoking

If you’re a smoker looking to better your wellbeing by quitting smoking, sans e-cigarettes, HBF may be able to support you with the Nicotine Replacement Program.

Available to HBF members who hold a range of Extras cover, your benefit could help cover:

  • Non prescription patches 
  • Lozenges 
  • Gum 
  • Inhalers 
Extra support:
  • Call Quitline (13 78 78) for free advice
  • My QuitBuddy App
  • Talk to your GP for strategies on quitting nicotine

If you’re an HBF member, you can check what you're covered for by logging on to myHBF or calling us on 133 423.

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  1. 1University of Queensland - What the Health: What is the difference between smoking and vaping?
  2. 2Health Direct – How to talk to your kids about vaping
  3. 3Cancer Council – Generation Vape Research Project
  4. 4Cancer Council – Research: Electronic cigarettes and health outcomes: systematic review of global evidence


This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.