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The Health Risks Of E-Cigarettes Versus Traditional Cigarettes

Posted on June 14, 2024 by Suzanna Mazur
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The use of e-cigarettes has increased exponentially in recent years, and vaping has become preferred to traditional cigarette smoking among today’s young people and those looking for alternative to traditional tobacco and nicotine products. As use and availability of these products increases, reports have cast more light on the health effects of e-cigarettes. Here, Kenneth Uy, a health coach at Henry Ford Health, clarifies some information about these products and how their use can impact your health.

Q: What are e-cigarettes?

Uy: An e-cigarette is an electronic device that works by heating a liquid, which produces an aerosol that the person then inhales. These products, also known as vapes or vape pens, come in a variety of flavors and can be just as easily purchased as cigarettes. But just because they are marketed to be enticing doesn’t mean they are something you should try.

Q: How is vaping different than smoking?

Uy: The term “vaping” is an intentionally misleading term used by big tobacco brands to try and trick the public – it makes us think what we’re inhaling from an e-cigarette/vape is related to water vapor, which is just the gaseous form of water. However, what is inhaled from a vaping device is actually an aerosol, or a suspension of particles mixed together. The aerosol from e-cigarettes often contains a higher level of nicotine or synthetic nicotine than traditional cigarettes. In fact, one vaping pod or disposable vape has the equivalent of about 1 pack/20 cigarettes, so it is possible that frequent e-cigarette users may end up smoking more than a traditional cigarette smoker.

Q: Who is using these products?

Uy: In a 2021 report for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it was found that approximately 11.5% adults in the U.S. use traditional cigarettes. Most of these users were between the ages of 25–44 and 45–64 years old. Alternatively, about 4.2% of adults use e-cigarettes with over 50% of users being between 18-24 years old. Additionally, a 2023 report found that approximately 2.13 million middle school and high school aged kids have tried vaping products before.

Q: Are e-cigarettes better for you than traditional cigarettes?

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Uy: While it is generally understood that e-cigarettes have less chemicals than traditional cigarettes, that does not necessarily mean e-cigarettes are healthy or safe. Traditional cigarettes have about 7,000 chemicals when combusted, whereas research has found that e-cigarettes have somewhere around 2,000, some of which we are still unable to identify. So, there may be less chemicals overall, but that does not mean vaping is safe by any means.

Most importantly, the aerosol emissions and secondhand smoke from vape products has been found to be exceptionally harmful to your health – often containing heavy metals like lead and nickel, ultrafine particles that can be inhaled into the lungs, and benzene, an organic compound also found in car exhaust.

Since vape products have become more popular, healthcare providers are also seeing a rise in cases of e-cigarette or vaping use associated lung injuries (EVALI). This condition, caused specifically by marijuana or nicotine-based e-cigarette or vape products, causes lung tissue damage and inflammation that may result in hospitalization or the need for respiratory support.

Q: What should you do if you are addicted to tobacco or nicotine products?

Uy: Don’t turn to e-cigarettes or vapes as an alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes. We know now that these products can only perpetuate a nicotine or tobacco addiction. Instead, it is best to work with your doctor or a tobacco treatment specialist to help you quit safely. Your provider may be able to suggest FDA-approved alternatives to smoking and vaping including patches, gum or medication.


Reviewed by Kenneth Uy, a health coach and tobacco treatment specialist at Henry Ford Health.

Categories : FeelWell
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