Vaping nicotine is marketed as an alternative to regular cigarettes and has become an increasingly popular way to consume tobacco. A “vape” is a form of an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) device which heats up liquid to create vapour, or aerosol, that is then inhaled by the user into their lungs. There are many types of vaping devices that come as pens or e- cigarettes (JUUL, Elf bars, etc). Vaping has become particularly popular in young adults and is recognised safer than tobacco and more convenient compared to a traditional cigarette. One short-term effect of e-cigarette use is breathing problems, like asthma.
Asthma is a lung condition that can cause breathing difficulties. It can occur at any age, however, it often starts in childhood. There is currently no cure for asthma but there are many simple treatments to help keep the symptoms under control. Some symptoms include wheezing or whistling sound when breathing, breathlessness, tight chest, and coughing. If these symptoms become suddenly worse they can cause an asthma attack.
How does vaping affect asthma?
The main chemicals in e-cigarettes are propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine. These have been linked to increased cough, mucus secretions, chest tightness, reduced lung function, all which make asthma worse. Common side effects include coughing and a dry throat. The use of e-cigarettes can assist pneumonia-causing bacteria to stick to cells in the airway, causing further damage. Therefore, this impairs the lungs’ ability to fight infection and increases the risk of severe asthma attacks.
Health Risks of Vaping
Short-term effects of vaping or vapour inhalation of e-cigarettes include acute cardiovascular changes including increased heart rate, diastolic blood pressure and pulse–wave velocity (stiffness of arteries).1 These are identical to changes caused by smoking conventional tobacco, therefore, are consistent with the development of significant cardiovascular and chronic lung diseases. Ultimately, it can contribute to an increased likelihood of heart attacks, strokes or angina. Even after 5 minutes of vaping, studies report increases in respiratory symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, and dry mouth.
Medium-term side effects to e-cigarette use can include damage of the lungs and making breathing a lot harder. There is very little research surrounding vaping and the development of chronic respiratory disease. Long-term risks in e-cigarette users have not been determined as the activity of vaping has not been around long enough to know if it can cause severe diseases. However, it has been shown vapours from e-cigarettes can damage human DNA, which is a pathway for developing lung cancer.
Does vaping trigger asthma symptoms?
Yes, vaping for even 5 minutes can trigger asthma symptoms and potentially worsen them. This is because it causes swelling or inflammation of the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs, making them more sensitive and causing them to temporarily narrow.
A recent study that followed a group of vape and e-cigarette users over a few years, found that they were 30% more likely than people with no history of vape or e-cigarette use to develop asthma-like symptoms.
Does secondhand vaping affect asthma?
Secondhand vaping is when other people around the individual who is vaping, are inhaling the vapour after the person has exhaled the smoke. It affects everyone and certain groups are at higher risk for negative health effects. Infants and children are more at risk from secondhand vaping as asthma is more likely to develop during childhood, and the vapour and contents of an e-cigarette can affect brain and lung development.2
Vapes come in different forms, sizes and flavours. The flavourings contain diacetyl, a chemical that may impair the function of cilia in the airway. The cilia help keep the airway clear of mucus and dirt so you can breathe. For an individual with a lung condition, exposure to secondhand vaping can trigger symptoms and asthma attacks. It has been found that non-smokers exposed to secondhand vaping absorb similar levels of nicotine as people exposed to secondhand smoking. If you or someone you know vapes, consider doing it outside and away from children, young adults, and people at high risk.
Is vaping worse for asthma than smoking?
It is hard to conclude if vaping is worse for asthma than smoking as it is hard to compare the effects of vaping to those of conventional tobacco. This is due to the fact that the chemical profiles of vapes are unlike tobacco, and there is currently limited research into the health effects of vaping.3
Help to quit vaping
It may be natural to choose another form of smoke inhalation method, but it will still irritate and cause further damage to the lungs and body. Deciding to quit can be an easy choice, however, starting that journey can be hard].4
- Preparation is key. Have an action plan in place as quitting vaping can be hard. Set up small, manageable goals that will set you up for success. Please keep in mind triggers and temptations. This could be places, people, situations or emotions that can cause you to vape.
- Finding support. This is a very important step to making a change to quit vaping. First talk to people you can count on about your intentions, so they can support you emotionally. Tell a professional so they can support you, like your doctor or a helpline, such as Smoke Free National Helpline on 0300 123 1044.
- Do not give up. It may be hard at first because your body is not used to it and may be giving you signs and symptoms to vape. It may take several attempts to quit smoking or vaping for the average smoker or vaper. If you fail the first time, which will likely happen, try again and if you don’t succeed, try again. Stay committed to your long-term journey as that small progress you have made will still count. Start gradually, here are some suggestions: vape at certain times during the day, limit how many vape pens you go through per week/month, lower the amount of nicotine in each vape so your body can get used to the nicotine withdrawal.
- Participate in positive activities. This will help manage your withdrawal symptoms.
- Physical activity. This is a good way to combat craving. You can go for walks, yoga, exercise classes, dancing, there are lots of ways to move your body.
- De-stress. You may realise that vaping is a form of stress relief, so you need an alternative. Try drawing, going for a walk, adult colouring books, and taking a self- care day.
Is vaping bad for asthma? Yes it is, vaping nicotine or secondhand exposure will contribute to the development of asthma symptoms or make them worse by causing airway inflammation. Long-term effects of vaping in general and the effect it can have on conditions, such as asthma, are relatively new and are still being investigated.
- Tsai M, Byun MK, Shin J, Crotty Alexander LE. Effects of e‐cigarettes and vaping devices on cardiac and pulmonary physiology. The Journal of Physiology. 2020 Nov;598(22):5039-62.
- Islam T, Braymiller J, Eckel SP, Liu F, Tackett AP, Rebuli ME, Barrington-Trimis J, McConnell R. Secondhand nicotine vaping at home and respiratory symptoms in young adults. Thorax. 2022 Jan 6.
- Xie W, Kathuria H, Galiatsatos P, Blaha MJ, Hamburg NM, Robertson RM, Bhatnagar A, Benjamin EJ, Stokes AC. Association of electronic cigarette use with incident respiratory conditions among US adults from 2013 to 2018. JAMA network open. 2020 Nov 2;3(11):e2020816-.
- Smokefree.gov. [cited 2022 Jun 8]. Available from: https://smokefree.gov/