E-Cigs & Your Lungs. What you need to know.

How E-Cigarettes Affect Your Lungs: Results of an Online Survey of Users

Updated: June 2016

If you trawl the net, you’ll find little data on how e-cigarettes effect your lungs.

So, with some help from researcher Paul Bergen and vaping bloggers (and from lots of you lovely readers!) I asked vapers how switching to electronic cigarettes had affected their smoker’s cough, ability to exercise and do strenuous jobs and lung capacity.

I’m leaving the detailed analysis to scientist and researcher Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, who has kindly agreed to analyse the results. You can read his analysis here.

(Since this post was originally written, we’ve updated it to include results from the latest research.)

Update: Read Dr Farsalinos’ analysis here.

Chart 1: How Long Have People Been Using Electronic Cigarettes? 

We asked:

How long have you been using electronic cigarettes:


Obviously, the less time you have been vaping the less likely it is to have any effect on your health.

It`s interesting, though, that nearly 40% of those surveyed have been vaping for more than a year. That’s very different from the survey we carried out with the University of Alberta in 2009, when most vapers had only been using electronic cigarettes for a short period of time.

Chart 2: Change In Smoking Habits After Switching To Ecigs. 

We asked:

Which of the following is true:

  • After switching to e-cigs, you smoked fewer tobacco cigarettes (or stopped smoking tobacco altogether).
  • After switching to e-cigs, you smoked more tobacco cigarettes.
  • You didn’t smoke before using e-cigs.


Although the survey is focussed on health improvements, it’s heartening to see only 4 people claimed they smoked more after switching to e-cigs. I was surprised, though, to see 17 people who hadn’t smoked before starting to use e-cigarettes.

Chart 3: Vaping v. Smoking 

We asked:

Do you:

  • vape daily and only vape
  • vape mostly with the occasional or rare cigarette
  • still smoke, but vape more than you smoke
  • still smoke, and smoke more than you vape


This question is important, because we need to see if any health improvements are greater among people who only use electronic cigarettes. (I am going to leave the cross analysis to Dr Farsalinos, though!)

Again, it’s not the focus of the survey, but it`s good to see that 77% have stopped using tobacco cigarettes entirely, and 15% only have the occasional cigarette.

Chart 4 Smoker`s Cough After Switching

We asked:

If you had a recurring cough before switching to electronic cigarettes:

  • is the cough worse?
  • is the cough unchanged?
  • has the cough got better or disappeared?
  • question not applicable


The results were clear: almost two thirds (63.9%) felt that their smoker`s cough was better after switching to ecigarettes. Less than 3.4% felt that the cough was worse or unchanged.

Chart 5: Ability to Exercise After Switching To Vaping

We asked:

Has your ability to exercise:

  • got worse
  • improved
  • stayed the same
  • question not applicable


Great news if you like sport – 72.9% of vapers reported an improved ability to exercise after switching.

Chart 6: Ability to Do Strenuous Jobs After Switching to Vaping

We asked:

Has your ability to do strenuous jobs (e.g. gardening, lifting, housework e.t.c.):

  • got worse
  • got better
  • stayed the same
  • question not applicable


Of course, some people don’t exercise – but nearly all of us have to do housework. So we wanted to know how vapers’ ability to do tiring jobs had changed.

Over 66% of vapers had experienced an improvement in ability to do strenuous jobs, although this did not match the number of people who reported an improvement in the ability to exercise.

Chart 7: Lung Capacity After Switching to Electronic Cigarettes

We asked:

If you are aware of your lung capacity, has it:

  • got worse
  • improved
  • stayed the same
  • question not applicable


The aim of the survey was to work out what the effect of electronic cigarettes on the lungs were, so this was the most important question! The results were amazing – over 70% reported an improvement in lung capacity.

Chart 8: Were Changes in Lung Capacity Confirmed by a Doctor?

We asked:

Have changes in lung capacity been confirmed by a doctor:

  • yes 
  • no
  • question not applicable


Assessing your change in lung capacity is a more subjective question than most of the questions here.

But from conversations with vapers I know some have had their lung capacity measured, usually because of existing health problems.

22.2% of the vapers told us that changes in lung capacity had been confirmed by a doctor, which I hope will be useful when assessing the validity of the results.

(Fewer people answered this question, as we used skip logic so that people who had answered not applicable to question eight jumped to the end of the survey.)

Potential Problems With This Survey

Of course, as Professor Carl Philips recently pointed out, all open surveys have problems. To my mind some of the biggest problems with this survey are:

1. As participants were recruited by social media, vaping forums and blogs, many participants are likely to be enthusiastic vapers which may lead to bias in subjective questions.

2. At the same time, there is also a danger that:

  • those who don`t like vaping will deliberately answer questions to throw vaping in a negative light
  • people may misread the questions, especially if they are completing the survey in a hurry

3. Ideally, this study would be carried out by a University or a Doctor – the only reason we did it was because the data was simply not out there.

Nevertheless, the results are fascinating, back up anecdotal evidence – and hopefully will inspire further research.

E-Cigarettes and Your Lungs: What the Research Says

While the survey showed that vapers report improvements in smoker’s coughs, their ability to exercise or do strenuous work and in their lung capacity, we are also starting to see plenty of peer-reviewed research looking into the effect of vaping on our lungs.

The results, as you may expect (or at least hope), are in agreement with the results of the survey, although research does reveal a few extra details that are important to vapers.

Before we take a look at what the research says, it’s important to remember that all we have so far is short-term evidence.

This can give us a general idea of how vaping is likely to affect our lungs over time.

But it’s not easy to say that something which looks bad over the short-term will really be bad over the long term, or that something that looks good over the short term will really be good over the long term. It’s not ideal, but that’s just how it is.

The evidence so far comes in the form of cell studies, studies on real-world vapers and older evidence on the effects of PG and VG themselves.

Cell Studies

Drawing conclusions based on cells removed from a body (in vitro – i.e. in a cell culture) is quite hard. They don’t necessarily react like they would in a real person, and it’s hard to expose them to a realistic amount of vapour or e-liquid. However, they’re a useful starting-point for finding potential ways something could cause harm or have beneficial effects.

For e-cigarettes, the studies looking at the effects on human lung cells have found some evidence of inflammation, but they suggest that the toxicity of vapour depends more on the flavourings used than the key ingredients of PG, VG and nicotine. The effects from exposure to smoke are much worse.

Real-World Vapers

Studies looking at real-world vapers address exactly what we’re interested in, but the ones we have so far only look over the very short term, even just 5 minutes of vaping.

These studies often show small effects from vaping on a measure of inflammation (exhaled nitric oxide) and minor increases in airway resistance. Both of these effects are small and probably won’t translate into real-world risks for vapers. A study looking at the main type of lung function test in use (spirometry testing) showed no impact of either first-hand or second-hand vaping on the lungs.

Another study looked at this type of test in asthmatic smokers, and found improvements in spirometry results after switching to vaping, and improvements in the condition overall. This was a very small study, but it’s still promising.

Other Evidence on Inhaling PG and VG

Although flavourings in particular can change things, what we’re mainly doing when we vape is inhaling PG and VG, so evidence on that can be useful too.

There are quite a few animal studies on inhaling PG and VG, with one example looking at PG inhalation in monkeys and rats for up to 18 months. This found no apparent impacts on the lungs from breathing air completely saturated with PG.

A study looking at VG inhalation in rats found only minor changes in the cells lining the airways after 13 weeks.

PG is also used in theatrical fog machines, and there is some evidence on this too. One study followed 439 performers in Broadway musicals for two years, and found that those exposed to the most PG fog reported more breathing-related symptoms, and showed signs of inflammation. However, there were no serious health effects found.

For vapers, the big limitation here is that we’re inhaling a lot more PG, as well as VG, but it’s still an encouraging sign.

Also see: Propylene Glycol in E-Cigs: Is PG dangerous to inhale?

What Does it All Mean?

The studies so far strongly support the conclusion that vaping is much better for your lungs than smoking, but if you’re worried about absolute risk (in comparison to neither smoking nor vaping), the answer is a quite tedious “we’re not sure yet.”

There probably will be some effects on our lungs, but we don’t have any evidence to definitively show that. The bottom line is: for your health, it’s best not to smoke or vape, but if it’s a choice between the two, vaping is the best option by far.

Also See: 

Water vapour and the lungs.

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36 thoughts on “How E-Cigarettes Affect Your Lungs: Results of an Online Survey of Users

  1. There is no doubt in my mind that I am healthier and look much better (confirmed by friends) despite the slight weight gain.
    Breathing easier, circulation huge improvement and although still get the cravings for an analogue would never return to smoking them. Was a smoker for 54 years!!!!

  2. I did the survey, although I don’t think I’m a typical vaper insofar as I have neither the desire to, nor the intention of ceasing to use tobacco.

    Having done a lot of reading on the subject of smoking, and as a result being aware of the almost exclusive application of junk science and manipulated epidemiology to the subject, I am both unmoved and totally unconvinced by all the propaganda that emanates like a putrescent miasma from the Tobacco Control Industry. As their ‘scientific’ foundations turn to sand beneath them, they become ever more shrill and blatantly untruthful in their blind, remorseless ideological quest for some dystopian ‘smoke-free’ world. They are now in the phase where ‘the end justifies the means’, and collateral damage is a necessary irrelevance.

    So, that is my view on tobacco. (And the Tobacco Control Industry.)

    On e-cigs, my view is equally uncompromising. I think they are bloody brilliant. I love smoking mine, and although it does mean I smoke less tobacco, that’s not why I vape – I do so because it’s a different experience, and one which I enjoy. It also has the massive advantage of really pissing off anti-smokers when you fire one up in a ‘no smoking’ area. It’s worth investing in one for that pleasure alone! For those who want to stop using tobacco, e-cigs are really the only way to go. I know from using one that if I so desired, I could stop using tobacco with the minimum of regret by shifting to an e-cig.

    As far as the survey goes, I couldn’t really add anything useful, as I’ve fortunately never suffered any problems as a result of smoking for 50 years, and I also still smoke more than I vape. I realise of course that smoking tobacco can have quite a severely detrimental effect on the respiratory systems of some people, particularly if they have a genetic predisposition to problems of that type, or other environmental factors like city traffic to cope with; for those people e-cigs are a boon. Smoking, like drinking, eating rich / fatty foods and many other pleasures in life carry a degree of risk with them. We make an informed decision as to whether or not we consider that the risk is outweighed by the gains. With e-cigs, the balance is very much weighted to the ‘gain’ side, with very little on the ‘risk’ side.

    Win-win, really.

    1. Which is another reason it shouldn’t be regulated as a medicine! Some organisations seem to think that electronic cigarettes are only used as a way to quit smoking, but for many users it’s also a hobby and a pleasure – and as informed users surely it should be there choice how they use ecigs.

  3. I didn’t do the survey – must have missed it… I stopped smoking,and now just vaping about 5 weeks ago. After about 6 months of doing both,I had a seriously bad chest infection, and smoking felt like it was doing me harm! I invested in a more reliable ecigarrette and haven’t looked back. The nurse who prescribed me antibiotics also told me to do steam inhalations. Not only was I inhaling steam, but also menthol and eucalyptus in my vaping liquid. Within days the cough stopped, and my breathing is freer!

  4. James,
    Only got to this today. Just a few of points (I could offer more if you want).

    Your proposed analysis of crossing time against health effects seems pretty hopeless. Not only do you have the selection bias problem from the sampling method, which you acknowledge and link to me about, but you have an unknown but probably substantial amount of reverse causation: Experiencing health improvements causes people to keep vaping rather than quitting. Of course, the association (in your sample, whoever it represents) would be what it is, but any claims of causation would be hopeless.

    You commented that one low number was “not statistically significant”. I assume you meant “…from zero”. But any positive number of responses in a sample is statistically different from zero (if zero were the true value in the population, there is no chance you could get that result by chance) — the simple formulas for estimating standard errors do not work well when you get close to a bound.

    On your main hypothesis of interest, I suspect the few people are able to intuit what is an increase in lung capacity and what is better lung function more generally, or even from O2 saturation. Those who actually got measurements are a different story (though that population is probably further biased by indication — you note that they are likely those with diagnosed lung problems).

    I can probably do more with this (eventually) if you want me to.

    1. Hi Carl

      Thanks for taking the time to read this.

      r.e. the length of time people had been vaping, do you not think this was a relevant question? For example, if someone only switched to e-cigarettes a few days or a week ago, is that enough time for them to experience a change in health, especially given the side effects people can feel as a result of quitting cigarettes? And don’t want we to know how they feel after using electronic cigarettes for a year?

      People usually put changes in health down to not smoking cigarettes rather than vaping, so I believe people continue to vape for other reasons than because of an improvement in health (addiction, pleasure, hobby aspects e.t.c.) Unless you mean that people continue to vape as an alternative to cigarettes.

      It would be interesting to find out what proportion of people eventually stop vaping but do not go back to cigarettes, although perhaps harder to reach this target audience.

      Thank you for pointing out the error r.e. statistically significanct, I’ll edit that in the post.

      I’ve spoken to quite a few people who have their lung capacity monitored due to illness, and who have experienced improvements, which was the motivation for the question and why I thought that a proportion of users might have had their lung capacity checked by the doctor. Perhaps a better question for those who hadn’t had any changes in lung capacity verfied by a doctor might have been: do users find it easier to breathe?

  5. I was a 40 a day smoker, new shop opened up near me selling the E-Cigs, that was last September never had a real fag since and I don’t have a craving for one. My health has improved a lot and my work mates can see a big difference in me. I retire next month so the extra pennies will come in handy. Only wish they’d invented it years ago lol.

  6. I gave up tobacco on the 3rd of January 2013 and started vaping. I hadn’t even heard of vaping up until then and i use youtube everyday,but i wish i knew about this three years ago. I had one cigarette first thing in the morning and vaped all day for the first two weeks and after this, i never craved again and now vape all the time. 18mg gave me a slight headache and i reduced it down to 11/12mg and this now suits me probably because i smoked roll ups. I also feel great and now cycle an hour or two each day and at 53, that’s good.I know one thing for sure,vaping has prolonged my life.

  7. Hello,

    Just to say that I bought what I would call a proper e-cigarette just over two weeks ago and have not had the urge to smoke proper tobacco since.

    True admittedly, I am using the e-cig quite a bit but during a whole weekend of marking exam papers I was not even once tempted to have a real cigarette…..normally I would have smoked 50 or more over the course of that WE.

    I do feel cleaner, healthier and generally better already and would urge people who are heavy smokers to try vaping.

    Also I had originally dismissed vaping when I tried a cheap disposable e-cig for 5.99, in retrospect it was useless compared to the one I have now. The cigarette I recently bought is a rechargable, refillable, can atomise at different temperatures, voltages etc, and is a completely different experience. It has easily replaced any urge to smoke a proper cigarette.

    I would certainly like to find out more about the safety of vaping and especially regarding which liquids to buy. At the moment I am using some E-liquid that is not labelled with ingredients and says “may contain nicoteen”. It makes sense that some liquid manufacturers will make better liquids than others. Any insight into this would be gatefully received.

    I quite like vaping in its own right its been the only alternative to smoking that has stopped craving for me. I hope it turns out to be safe enough for me to use in the long term!

  8. Hi Mike, glad it is working for you, but make sure you are buying from a reputable supplier – this is particularly important when using eliquid, which should be batch tested by a reputable lab to ensure safety.

  9. I quit smoking 3 weeks ago ( started 4 years ago, almost one pack a day )

    Then I my boyfriend bought me one of the newest ego models plus 3 months amount of nicotine liquids.

    I fell in love with e-cigs and especially ice cream flavor. I vaped all of it already which is unfortunate.. Well I got lots of other flavors. But next time we purchase e-liquid I only want ice cream flavor and maybe cheesecake and strawberry..

    Well anyways vaping feels and tastes great!

    On the other hand I’m really hooked to it..need to have something between my lips that I can inhale. So if the batteries get broken, I run out of liquid or otherwise can’t vape I’m really much afraid I’ll start smoking again!

    Yes I’ve had cravings to smoke, I even have dreams about smoking.. But vaping is so great I rather stick to my promise not to smoke. E-cig makes saying “no” to real cigarettes pretty easy. 🙂

    It’s often hard to be around smokers and say no to free cigarettes offered by friends and strangers at a bar. It’s really those moments I cling to my e-cig and vape like crazy! I couldn’t possibly manage without my e-cig.

    I very often remind myself about health benefits and how much money I save now that I don’t smoke anymore. Especially I want to avoid cancer, other diseases and I want my skin to look good and not as wrinkly as it would look after a few years If I continue smoking.

    Vaping rules!

  10. i downloaded a quit app on phone and in 7 days of being on ecigie i havent
    smoked over 200 hundred ciggies that alone is driveing me to stop all together

  11. I’ve noticed since giving up the cancer sticks my house, clothes, and ME no longer smell of stale smoke, and I’m pleased that the E-Cigs are a big success and one I hope continues.

  12. I am an advocate of vaping over analogues but after three months the side effects for me seem to be blocked sinuses and bad congestion also my breathing seems to be worse? I can’t ‘breath’ deeply as before although I smoked roll ups for 30 years (never kept count but 30 a day would be a good estimate) I could still breath freely? My cough has gone though and I feel ‘cleaner’ I wonder if I’m allergic to pg or VG? I’ve tried 70/30 pg 12mg nic now 40/60 VG with no difference I am not sure whether to try 100% of each ?

  13. Hello, I don’t usually post online but after reading some of post I decided why not… I am 55 years old (female), I began to smoke at age 12. I smoked all my life and claimed cigarettes to be my best friends. My Mom died from emphysema in ’02, at that time she pleaded with me to quit as not to end up like her on oxygen 24/7 what a horror to watch. I continued smoking until 10/3/2015. In between this time begin to develop a cough, bad, nasty sounding afraid to cough in front of people because I was embarrassed especially during Church service. In the last year, I begin to cough all night waking from my sleep to sit up for a while. During this time I was diagnosed with acute bronchitis… I hated myself every single time I smashed that cig. out. I purchased the Logic Pro Advanced ecig on 10/3/15 and have not smoked as of today it’s 87 days… YAY!!! I don’t care what anyone has to say about this product because I am living proof it is working for me. No more coughing, wheezing or anything, I feel wonderful and even my Dr. is impressed with my lung function. Please if your listening, try anything other than cigarettes my family can’t believe it and neither can I.

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