Is Vaping Bad For Your Lungs?

Many people believe that vaping is safer than cigarette smoking. It is so much more socially acceptable that even teens vape, the same ones that are legally prevented from smoking.

However, is vaping actually safer? Is vaping just as bad for your lungs as cigarettes are? In this article, we will look at the effects of vaping on your lungs, as well as its other effects.

What Is Vaping?


Vaping is the use of electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes). It has become increasingly popular. For instance, it has overtaken cigarette smoking in teenagers in the United States of America. It grew in popularity between 2017 and 2018 with about 1.5 million middle school and high school students turning to ‘vaping’. This has led many, including the surgeon general to label it an epidemic.

While being marketed as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking, it is viewed as a “cool” thing to indulge in by teenagers, many of whom had never smoked cigarettes before. It is now a part of the culture and lifestyle amongst many high school and college students.

Vaping is also widely accepted because of the way vape pens are made. They come in varying colors, sizes and flavors.


Vaping And Your Lungs

vaping affects the lungs

A vape is a hand-held battery-powered device that works by heating a liquid (called the e-juice or e-liquid) to produce a vapor. Once heated, the vapor rises and can be inhaled from the device in the same manner that cigarettes are inhaled. Vapes may also be referred to as mods, tanks, or e-hookahs.

They have prefilled cartridges with differing flavors, levels of nicotine, and volume of vapor produced.

E-liquid or juice is a combination of chemical agents like glycerin, propylene glycol (used to make theatrical fogs), nicotine and flavoring.

Vaping is often described as totally healthy by manufacturers because it is made of colorized vapors rather than smoke. It also contains fewer substances than a cigarette, thus reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals.

However, vaping is harmful to your lungs and body. It delivers nicotine and other chemicals into your bloodstream without the traditional smoke or tar associated with cigarette smoking. Generally, the harmful effects of vaping are thought to be much worse in children.

Here are some effects vaping has on the lungs:

1. Decreased Functioning

The mix of chemicals and flavoring used in the production of e-liquid causes the cells in the lung to react weirdly. These chemicals form new compounds and reactions which cause inflammation and hamper the normal functioning of lung macrophages.

These cells are responsible for the removal of allergens, dust, bacteria and other disease-causing entities. When they are less effective, infections can result and cause further damage to the lung tissues.

2. Lung Poisoning

Some chemicals used also contain acetaldehyde, the irritant responsible for causing coughing and inflammation in smoke. When it gets into the body, acetaldehyde forms new compounds with the flavors from the e-liquid and the body cells and then gets deposited in the deepest parts of the lungs.

3. Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis

This is a type of lung inflammation that can lead to wet lung (Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS). It is associated with prolonged vaping.


Wet lung occurs when fluid builds up in the tiny air sacs of the lungs (called alveoli). The fluid keeps them from getting filled with enough air, causing less oxygen to be delivered to the bloodstream. It can be life-threatening.

4. First-time jitters

first time jitters

In some new users, vaping causes a reaction in the lungs called eosinophilic inflammation. This develops rapidly and mimics the symptoms seen in wet lungs, such as coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath. It may also be seen when the intensity of vape use rises rapidly. Affected persons may need hospitalization in severe cases.

5. Popcorn Lung


popcorn lungs

A known ingredient in some e-liquids is diacetyl, a chemical associated with the development of popcorn lung. This is a condition in which the small airways in your lungs are scarred which causes you to have shortness of breath and cough. Lung efficiency and capacity is profoundly reduced.

It was first described in workers in factories where popcorn is made, hence the name. It caused lung disease in workers who had been exposed to the chemical and had inhaled it.

It is added to e-liquid to create a caramel or buttery flavor which makes it more alluring to users. A substitute for diacetyl is 2,3-pentanedione, also thought to be capable of causing popcorn lungs (bronchiolitis obliterans).

While diacetyl in vapes is thought to be a risk factor for the development of popcorn lungs, other factors like cigarette smoking, viruses and bacteria are commoner causes of popcorn lungs. Vaping, in fact, has not been shown to cause popcorn lungs at this time. The cure for popcorn lungs is a lung transplant but symptoms may be quelled with medications.

A clear link between vaping and long-term lung damage has not been established presently because users are often users of other smoking products. Vapes and e-liquids are also undergoing rapid changes in forms and constituents which researchers have not been able to keep up with.

Other Effects

Some other effects of vaping are outside the lungs. More harmful effects are yet to be discovered due to the fact that vaping is relatively new. However, the following are probable risks that may arise from vaping.

1. Addiction


Vapes contain nicotine in varying forms and constitutions, often much more than the labels reflect. It is known to be a highly addictive chemical capable of hindering normal brain development and functioning in young people. It is often described as being as addictive as heroin.

Aside from being a stimulant, nicotine also causes lung inflammation and a reduction in lung functioning. It reduces the lung tissue’s ability to clear foreign substances and protect the body from infections.

It may also potentially worsen heart disease, cause hypertension and increase the risks of developing a stroke. A significant percentage of people who use nicotine vapes also smoke cigarettes, marijuana or use hookahs, creating a five-fold increase in the chances of developing heart disease and other complications.

2. Increase In Cigarette Smoking And Other Addictive Substances


It is noted that vaping may be used as an avenue to quitting smoking in adult populations. Smokers who want to quit turn to vaping which offers them a chance to reduce their nicotine intake and finally, give up on smoking.

However, the reverse is seen in young people, especially those who had never smoked cigarettes. They often develop a reduction in impulse control, turning first to smoking and then graduating to potentially more damaging and addictive substances.

3. Risk Of Second-hand Damage

second hand smoke

Inhaling expelled vapor from vapes is thought to be less harmful when compared to the risks of second-hand smoking. It is however still being researched and it is advised to steer clear of vape clouds or smoke. They contain emissions which may impact lung health when inhaled.

4. Poor oral health

poor oral health

Although vaping carries a much lower risk of causing oral health problems, it may cause a number of problems for users. It is linked with an increase in mouth ulcers, gum bleeding and non-healing wounds in the mouth. In prolonged or high doses, it may cause tooth loss.


vaping rule

While it is currently legal to use vapes, many countries and states are drafting laws to curtail the ascent of vapes. This is to limit the exposure of young people to vaping, thereby reducing the nicotine epidemic.

Research about the effects of vaping is still on-going. So far, there is proof that it has harmful effects on the lungs and other parts of the body.

It is, therefore, safe to conclude that vaping is indeed bad for your lungs and all efforts should be made to avoid it.

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Zubair Abdulahi, MBBS

Dr. Zubair Abdulahi is a licensed medical practitioner with a degree in medicine and surgery who is interested in using new media to influence health decisions by providing information on health queries. He has written for top publications in Nigeria like the Guardian. When he's not working as a doctor, he enjoys the game of football as well as sight-seeing and listening to classical music.
Zubair Abdulahi, MBBS