Why You Cough When Using E-Cig

Why You Cough When You Vape, and How to Stop It!

“You’ve got to try this again, Julia!” I said to our accountant.

She’s been smoking for decades, and occasionally mutters about quitting. I’ve been trying her on various e-cigs trying to get her to switch – this time I was trying her on an Aspire Mini Nautilus and iStick, hoping that a more powerful e-cig would do the job.

“Oh go on then.” Julia lifted the e-cig to her mouth and inhaled.

“It’s not working!”

“Just press the button and inhale.”

Julia did as I asked, only to burst into a fit of coughing.

“Here you are,” she gasped in between coughs. “You can have that back!”

How Many New Vapers Cough When Vaping?

Julia’s not the only one who coughs when vaping.

In fact when we surveyed 600 vapers, almost 57 % of them said they coughed when using an electronic cigarette for the first time:

Cough when started vaping

Research by scientists backs this up, suggesting that the most common side effect experienced by first time vapers was a cough and sore throat.

A Temporary Effect

For most vapers, coughing when vaping is a temporary effect.

While almost 57% said they coughed when they first vaped, 93% of them no longer have a problem.

Do you still cough when vape

For those interested, 92% had been vaping for more than 10 weeks, with just 1% of those surveyed vaping for 0-1 weeks.

We All Cough Now and Then

I coughed a little when I started vaping, but I was far too excited at the world of possibilities in front of me for it to be an issue.

I’ve found that it takes about a day to acclimatise to a harsher juice, so I can’t imagine that the cough should be an ongoing issue. I’m sure we all still cough every now and then when we take too big a hit though!

Max from GetVape.co.uk

Why do you cough when you vape?

Irritants in Vapour

Why do we cough?  Most vapers will probably tell you it’s because of propylene glycol.

Propylene glycol model.

Based on a very rough estimate (put together by Chris Price based on an analysis of forum posts) around 10% of the population is sensitive to propylene glycol. (A much smaller proportion is allergic to propylene glycol).

In addition, Professor Polosa told me there may be other elements in vapour which cause vapers to cough:

we cannot discount the possibility of other unknown ingredients, contaminants, by-products in the e-vapour causing similar irritant effects.

But this raises a question.

Why do vapers cough when they first use e-cigarettes, but not after sustained use?

No-one seems to have the answer at the moment, but one possible reason is that your body gets used to these chemicals.

Lack of Anesthetics

In addition, Chris Price of ECigarette Politics believes that tobacco smoke contains ingredients which are specifically designed to stop smokers from coughing. Chris told me:

Essentially, this is why you can breathe in tobacco smoke when you can’t breathe in bonfire smoke too well, when they are basically the same thing: burning plant matter…. Some of the 9,600 ingredients identified to date are in there to to make the smoke smoother, less irritating, and to prevent coughing.

The absence of anaesthetics and antitussives in vaping could explain why you cough when you first try vaping.

Technique Used When Vaping

Then there’s technique.

Many smokers draw cigarette smoke through their mouths and straight into their lungs.

But many vapers, on the other hand, draw vapor into their mouths and hold it there before inhaling into their lungs.

Some vapers find that using the same technique for cigarettes causes them to cough.

Could the difference between techniques explain why people cough when they first vape, but not when they are experienced vapers?

Our survey seems to suggest techniques make a difference for at least some vapers. Although many respondents (40.58%) were unsure or couldn’t remember whether changing technique helped, almost 30% felt it did help:

Technique used help stop cough

Initially I thought that mouth-to-lung inhale was less likely to make you cough when vaping, but in fact it seems to vary from vaper to vaper (possibly because of the difference in devices and juice used.)

Cilia Regrowth

When you smoke, you slowly destroy tiny hair-like projections on your respiratory tract called cilia. When you stop smoking, these slowly grow back.

A by-product of the hairs growing back is coughing – just one of many side effects you can experience when you stop smoking (for a more complete list, see here: 7 Quit Smoking Side Effects: The Essential Guide for New Vapers and Quitters).

Cilia projecting from respiratory epithelium in the lungs
Cilia in the lungs. Via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bronchiolar_epithelium_3_-_SEM.jpg

Some bloggers have speculated that this regrowth or cilia could be why new vapers cough.

This might explain why some new vapers have a recurring cough when switching to vaping. However, it doesn’t explain why smokers cough when they vape their first e-cigarette.

Nicotine Strength & Throat Hit

If you’re an experienced vaper and you’ve tried a zero nicotine e-liquid, you’ll have noticed that the throat hit is much reduced.

A higher nicotine level seems to lead to a harsher vape, and an increased likelihood of coughing.

On the other hand, some people need a high nicotine level in order to successfully switch to e-cigarettes.

Read more:

The Vaper’s Guide to Throat Hit

Device Used

The device used can also contribute to coughing. In fact, many users cough when they first switch to a sub-ohm device.

So if coughing is an issue for you, it may be worth using a more basic device when you start off. Again, you do need to balance this with research that shows cigarette smokers are more likely to successful switch to electronic cigarettes with more advanced devices.

This is probably because they deliver more nicotine more quickly than basic devices, as the graph below shows:

New generation device v. cigalikes.

Finding the Right Device and E-Liquid Was Key

I’ve been a smoker for nearly 15 years. When I first started using electronic cigarettes, I continued to smoke for nearly 2 years. I’ll be 1 month smoke free next Wednesday, so I’m still at the start of my journey. It has not been easy, but it’s getting easier.

For me, finding the right combination for e-liquid and hardware was key. Working for ECigarettedirect, I’m lucky that there’s never a shortage of vaping devices around me. But it was only when I started sub-ohming with a box mod and an Aspire Atlantis Clearomiser that I could eliminate smoking 100%.

I always enjoyed smoking, but not the side effects; the breath, the stinky clothes, the breathlessness. I still love the smell of cigarette smoke, but if I have my e-cig with me, I know I’ll be ok.

Tom – ECigaretteDirect Staff

Dehydration

Both propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerine (VG) attract water, which helps make the clouds of vapour that you see when exhale.

A minor side of this can be dehydration and occasionally a sore or dry throat, which may contribute to coughing.

I Stopped Coughing After A Few Days

I remember it was both a familiar and alien sensation. Unlike smoking, there wasn’t any warmth to the vape; and there was a “catch” on the inhale whether from the sensation or the flavour I can’t be 100% sure. It was definitely a unique experience, but the taste from the vape convinced me to keep at it. That I think was the most surprising thing, the taste. I did cough, almost immediately after each vape for the first dozen or so then less regularly for a few days then it stopped. Unless I’m a complete moron and don’t leave a fresh tank to wick properly!

I knew that the cough reflex was my body trying to clean itself so didn’t really pay it too much attention, especially as I had been coughing a lot with the recent cigarette binge, but the sporadic coughing didn’t make it difficult to vape.

Paul Barnes fdm.ukvaping.com

4 Ways to Stop Coughing When Switching to E-Cigs

1. Experiment with Techniques

Now, I’ve always assumed that a ‘mouth-to-lung inhale’ (it’s not a technical term, but one widely used in the vaper community) would be less likely to lead to coughing. But that’s not always the case, as this comment by Brown Eyed Pea on Reddit shows:

I used to (and still do sometimes) with mouth to lung inhales, never with direct lung inhales for some reason

So it’s important to experiment with technique to find the right one for you.

I’d love to know which techniques works best for you, so do let me know in the comments below.

2. Change PG/VG Ratio

If you continue to experience a cough when you vape, you could change the PG/VG ratio.

Vegetable glycerine model.

Most e-liquids are made up of PG (propylene glycol) and VG (vegetable glycerine). VG is smoother, and many people who use high powered box mods find they need to use an e-liquid with a high VG ratio to avoid coughing.

A small minority of people need to use a 100% VG e-liquid, although unfortunately these can be rather harsh on atomisers.

3. Experiment With Nicotine Levels

We’ve seen that nicotine can affect the throat hit that you get. So if coughing is an issue, it may be worth temporarily reducing the nicotine that you use.

However, remember that scientists tell us the harm with smoking comes from the smoke, not the nicotine. So once you are used to vaping, it might be worth increasing the nicotine level if it helps you stay off tobacco cigarettes.

4. Drink Water

We’ve seen that PG and VG can cause minor dehydration, but can you tackle this by simply drinking more water.

Reader Suggestions

5. Change the Speed Of Inhale

In the Facebook comments below Alan Miller finds that inhaling really slowly can lead to coughing, as their is not enough air hitting the coil in your e-cigarette. By experimenting with the speed you inhale, you may be able to reduce coughing.

6. Change the Speed of Exhale

Celeb Fawkes finds that you can reduce the chance of coughing by using a slow, controlled exhale.

7. Add a Drop of Menthol

Edward suggests adding a drop of menthol e-liquid to your e-juice.

Finally, The Positive Side Effects of Vaping

If you are thinking of quitting e-cigs at the first hurdle, it might be worth considering the positive side effects of vaping.

While most reported side effects are both minor and temporary, research shows that the positive effects of vaping can be huge, especially if you switch 100% to electronic cigarettes. Here are just some of those found by scientists:

Graph showing changes in physical conditions following switching to ecigs.

For the full story, click below!

E-Cigarette Side Effects

Did you cough when you first vaped? Share your story below!

Leave a comment:

31 thoughts on “Why You Cough When You Vape, and How to Stop It!

  1. Very useful information which I can use in my work as a stop smoking advisor (our team are positive about the use of e cigs to quit tobacco use).

  2. I only cough when I have no nicotine e juice, but I don’t understand why this is? I’m fine with 12mg, and I found the 6mg also makes me cough!

    1. For me it is vice versa…I have some kind of asthma so I can vape only no nicotine e-juices…Really interesting case that you cough only if u vape no nicotine e-juices, no idea why… very good article by the way 🙂

  3. coughing is a real issue. I thought it might be on safe to vape but I believe it’s much better than smoking cigarettes with all the tar and chemicals that are associated with smoking. I also find certain flavors like banana and cinnamon can be harsh and often make me cough a lot more something to think about

  4. Its just occured to me would it not be a good idea to develop an ejuice or eliquid thats essentially organic, and aids in the repair of cillia whilst vaping whilst enjoy the tastes. In effect reversing the dmage to the lungs. Is there such a juice or a multivitamin juice that can be vaped, enhancing immunw systems or voginitive abilities.

    1. Hi Max, unfortunately e-cig retailers (at least in the UK) are not allowed to make any claims. Also, we will not be able to use organic ingredients under the TPD because the inherent variability of organic products leads to variations in test results.

  5. I have been vaping for around a year, but have developed a really bad cough which I have had for 5 months. My friends and family have all commented that they think I should stop vaping. Is there anyone else experiencing this?

    1. I am a regular smoker and the other day my friend offered me an electronic one. It was too hard to resist my coughing. But he confronted me that its just an initial experience that will help relieve my day. When in office, I now sometimes try out vaping from my friend. I hope it will work soon.

      1. Hi Jack, what type of e-cig was it? When you are starting out a basic ego kit can be a better starting point that a mod. You can also try a higher VG ratio which is less likely to make you cough (although bear in mind these are harder on the coils in the e-cigs, especially with basic mods.)

    2. Do you vape the same flavour all the time?
      I started caughing when i changed to a new flavour,, but i like it so much that the caugh is just a minor irritant.
      Having said that, if i were you i would see a doctor,as you may have a chest infection that needs antibiotic treatment.

    3. I have developed a cough when I vape also.I think maybe I vape too much.I’m down to 3mg of nic now and tend to switch back and forth between flavors.( I have 3 or 4 tanks on the go)Doesn’t seem like high vg is the cure.I smoked cigs then pipe for years.Then switched to chew then to snus.My brother and son convinced me to switch to ecigs.
      It is odd that after a year I now have a cough.

    4. Hi Jayne. Is it possible that vaping has meant that you have cut down or stopped smoking and that, therefore, your lungs are starting to recover and are now coughing up all the tar and other nasties caused by smoking?

  6. I’ve been coughing a lot everytime I vape until I discovered that mouth to lungs strategy somewhat works for me. Coughing was reduced, thanks to your guide. I’ve been using a 40 wattage mod and now I’m planning to upgrade if to a mechanical mode with a higher wattage but I’m afraid that the coughing will start again. I’ve been using also a mentholated juices but I wanted to try a different juice without menthol, I hope the coughing will not start again. By the way, vaping helps a lot in reducing the number of cigarettes I take everyday. From 30 sticks to 15 sticks saving me enough money to upgrade my vape device. Thanks to your guide, it will be a great help to Vapers.

  7. Have been smoking e cigs for about a year now and have gradually been getting stronger models. At the moment I have a 1300mah battery with an aspire k1 clearomiser. But I just bought my first sub ohm box MOD egig which is a 30 w and 0.5 ohm coil but every time I inhale from it is really harsh and makes me cough my lungs up even on the low settings.I always normally smoke medium strength menthol flavor and Not sure whether it is the liquid but is it possible that the quality of clearomizer and coil are making me cough. Any advice would be great thanks

  8. Thank you very much!

    I recently returned to vaping and could not figure out why I coughed so bad now when I didn’t before.

    It was my technique.

    Now I’m doing quick but strong “direct lung” inhales on my iStick. I will need to experiment with how long of an inhale I can handle still, but a marked improvement already.

    *12mg Nic juice

    1. Hi Bobby. I have the same problem, in that I was fine using an e-cig (basic tank and battery type) a couple of years ago, stupidly went back to smoking and now, trying to get off the tobacco cigs, finding that the e-cig makes me cough really badly.

      You say it was your technique. In what way did your technique change? I ask, because I don’t think I am doing anything differently from a couple of years ago, but am desperate to be able to use an e-cig again.

  9. Hi,
    I think I gone over the top as a first time user. Received my Joyetech Ego One Mega v2 today, and after all that reading and researching I thought I got it right. But now I think I bought the wrong modell and E-juices now after the first day.

    It burns a lot, I have been smoking for a long time, 20 years, something a pack a day some periods 15 cigaretts a day.
    Past few years I have been smoking these click models, Marlboro Beyond Gold, or are they called Marlboro Beyond Blue. I don’t know. Anyways, I have been trying mouth first but it burns going down, I have tried direct in hail to my lounges, nothing really gives any different outcome.
    So I tried some of the other juices, I got some mint and some mentol, some tobak taste and so. No candy or coola or anything like that. All are 55/70 VG and the rest is 45/30 PG.

    The result is the same, so I went ahead and switched out the Atomizer, 0,5 ohm to the 1.0 ohm, maybe this change made some difference but still nothing like all the great stuff I read about before deciding to go for this so my question is to you guys, what am I doing wrong here?

    I appreciate your guidance.

    1. Hi Assarélius, what wattage/voltage are you using? You mention the resistance but if the wattage is too high that could lead to the coil burning out. Also, are you priming the coil before use?

      1. James,
        The Ego One Mega V2 is not a variable wattage device. That being said, since its all factory, nothing should be burning.

        Assaréliu,
        When you are filling your tank up with liquid, are you letting it sit and absorb into the cotton? You want to make sure that the juice absorbs into the cotton or else you will dry fire. Dry firing will ruin your coil if there is barely any juice on it, because it will burn the cotton. The best thing I can say to you would probably be swap to a brand new coil, drip juice on all your cotton wicking holes to get it primed up, and then put it on your mod. After that, fill up your tank and let it sit for a little bit. (5-10 mins to be on the safe side) Try vaping on it after that, it should be good. With tanks like that, you cannot chain vape very long or else you can start getting dryish hits, and that’s when you need to stop and let the juice absorb into your cotton. On that device, VG/PG ratio doesn’t matter in burning cotton.

        Reply back so I know if this helped or not. If not I can go into more depth. Figured I’d try to keep it simple. 🙂

        – Trevor

  10. So glad I Google this. I have been smoking for 18 years and gave up trying e-cogs before because of the coughing. I recently bought one of the tanks with the atomisers hoping this would be better but still found myself having a coughing fit with each inhalation.

    After reading your guide, I tried holding the Vale in my mouth before inhaling and it worked!!!…no more coughing. In addition, if I accidentally inhale straight away, it now isn’t so bad….still a little cough but controllable.

    With that said, I can now put my cigarettes to one side and hope never to return to them. Fingers crossed I can stay smoke free. The tank starter kits are expensive with my full 3 month starter kit costing near £60 but in comparison to the cost of cigarettes, this will pay for itself withing 2 weeks. I recommend the VIP stalls/shops as they don’t automatically recommend the most expensive kits but listen to what u say u r looking for and recommend accordingly.

    So excited and positive that this may be the start of a much healthier wealthier future for me.

    Thank you!

  11. Does anyone use 10motives to vap? I find these really nice but I’m recovering from a cough and cold and they make me cough so much ☹️

  12. Hi James – After smoking most of my life & having tried to kick the stinkies many times unsuccessfully I began vaping about 3 months ago for the 1st time ever. My two buddies (both hard-core smokers for years previously) both now are Aspire & I-Stick users so I decided to go with the same as them. I purchased the Aspire Nautilus 5 Ml mounted to the E-Leaf I-Stick TC 40 Watt. To report what I found in the beginning – I did have a really sore throat, what felt to be lung discomfort,& yes coughing, bad headaches (Ones that lasted for dayssssss), & VERY sensitive teeth (when I began vaping). I was so bummed-out was vaping not for me!?. My 1st juice was a 50/50 blend of E-Juice 18MG. Decided this juice just wasn’t for me – Read about reducing the nic for those who had reactions to vaping. Suggestions pointed to choosing a lesser PG as well as some people seemed to be PG sensitive- I thought that might be me. Brought another juice with a lesser PG & an Omgs Nic -(In hindsight) It was a pretty crappy juice I brought from a city vape store & I reached for the only juice they had in a tobacco flavour with an 0MGs. – even with the lesser PG & the 0Mgs. Vaped that for about 2 weeks. I wanted it to be the answer – but it still made me feel not so good. Throat & chest still not feeling so great, Teeth feeling still really sensitive. Sadly still had not found my sweet-spot. I then thought maybe I should go 100% VG -2 weeks ago I got my 100% VG which I bought online – & for now I m just going with an 0MG juice. Happy to say I have felt comfortable every since. No more coughing & throat feels fine now & super pleased to say no more senstive teeth either. I also brought a 3 MGs of 100% VG of the same brand as well – if I feel I need to switch it up at any time – but for now – I m just enjoying the great tobacco flavour this juice has at 0MGs. Phew!! On another note..Sorry..while I m here. Perhaps you have a suggestion regarding the following – I do like the ELeaf & its great to chill with at home – but its too big to chuck in my handbag – & if it lays on its side it tends to leak etc. I need something like an e-cig I can throw in my pocket or in my bag for bars & work etc. Plus one that can handle 100% VG Juices. I like the look of the Emili Pocket e-cig & also like the look of the Halos – Nowhere can I seem to find any infos that says specifically if either of these device cans handle 100% VG..? You might be able to suggest other units similar to the 2 units I have suggested above that perhaps do handle 100% VG?
    Cheers

    1. I cannot be taken as an avid or high knowledge vaper, but they do have a decent one by e-leaf now called the icare or the icare-mini they are very small has a pretty good draw and flavor its an auto shutoff and just draw style not a push button style. They have a small tank but its easy to fill easy to alter the vapor/air mix and all the tools you need are included(as part of the cap/mouth peice). It is a low cost option with inexpensive atomizers it runs around $20 USD, and the atomizers are around $2 each. The battery life is around 4 hours of heavy vaping, and can be used while charging. It is not a perfect device but it is a good one to start with/change up to if you are trying to find one that works for you. Its size is about as thick as a bic lighter and just a little larger if you get the bigger of the 2 and about the size of a flash drive if you get the smaller one, it will not go off in your pocket.

      In my opinion…
      Pros.
      Small , Easy, little to no tools or outside devices needed to maintain, adjustable air ratio, inexpensive, doesn’t seem to leak (as long as you have the air tube on properly and not rediculiously loose, does not need to be flipped upside down to refill, Simple to use, better clouds than most if not all pen style’s.

      Cons.
      Small tank so you may need to fill more often, Not adjustable wattage, small enough to misplace, awkward placement for the led(to tell you the charge level left), the coils/atomizers do not last nearly as long as some of the more expensive units, and it was a little awkward that it says icute on the side, not the huge clouds(if you like to show off), and if you chain vape for to long (i have not had any issues and i’ll vape while watching movies) it could dry out the cotton, could have a little spray if you don’t put the atomizer on well enough, and it has a small delay on the draw, do not blow into it unless you want it to build up pressure and auto fire for a little bit(blowing a cloud out the mouth peice like when you are blowing through the air holes on most normal mods (from the kanger tech styles to Aspire K1)
      its best for lung draw but with a little bit of use you can figure out how to mouth to lung just fine.

      over all its a good device and can be easily charged with a computer, phone charger(usb mini), or even an extra phone battery pack.

      I apologize for the long message and hope it helps anyone who wants a smaller device.

      1. (minor edit) The amount of VG or PG does not seem to have much of an effect on performance or duration. and although i have not burnt out any coils yet i’m told with heavy use they last for about a month with 80%+VG

  13. I started vaping a year ago and had the usual cough for about a week or so, but just persevered as I had to stop smoking for very real health reasons. Now so happy with vapig that I would never entertain the idea of smoking another cigarette. More recently I’ve started mixing my own liquid and tried to introduce a friend in order to get her to quit cigarettes. However, she just could not get over the initial vaping cough. A lot of trial and error later with various eliquid mixes and we’ve cracked it. A 30%PG/70%VG mix (much less harsh), and as also suggested in the article above, 1% menthol to 4% of another flavouring, which she says also feels more soothing on her throat than her preferred flavour without menthol. Nothing scientific about a single case, but I’m convinced that higher VG mixes are better for people who genuinely cannot get on with predominantly PG liquids, and a drop of menthol also helps without dominating the flavour experience. With regards to devices, I started off with the readily available pen type refillable e-cig and am now using a cool fire 4 with a nautilus mini tank. I was surprised how much more intense the nicotine “hit” was when I switched (same liquid in both) so there may also be something in the contention that higher end devices also have an effect. Incidentally the recommended voltage for nautilus mini coils is 4.2 to 4.8 volts. I vape at 4.4 volts, but my aforementioned friend, who has the same device, vapes at 3.7 volts and is perfectly happy, so it might also be worth considering turning the power down if you have a variable voltage device and are having coughing problems.

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