For people who are looking to quit smoking, there’s a popular alternative on the market: electronic cigarettes. An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that produces an aerosol, often containing nicotine and other additives.

Vaping refers to the inhalation of these e-cigarettes. In 2017, the most recent data available, about 2.8 percent (about 7 million) of adults in the United States use e-cigarettes.

It is generally thought that vaping is a safer alternative to traditional cigarette smoking. However, there is very little scientific research to support this idea. Emerging research suggests that vaping may have long-term health effects. In addition, vaping may aggravate other pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma.

In this article, we will discuss the safety and side effects of vaping, and how vaping may affect asthma and other health conditions.

Difficulty breathing

A 2018 study compared the effects of both cigarettes and e-cigarettes on cardiopulmonary symptoms. The researchers discovered that e-cigarette use alone was associated with an increase in symptoms, including difficulty breathing. For people with asthma, troubled breathing is likely to further intensify symptoms.

Increased symptoms

In a 2016 study of Korean high school students, the link between e-cigarette usage and asthma was investigated. The researchers found that the use of e-cigarettes was associated with increased asthma symptoms leading to school absences. This increase in symptoms is likely due to the presence of additives that can cause respiratory irritation.

A small 2017 study of 54 people who vape investigated the short-term respiratory effects of e-cigarette use on people with and without asthma. They found that both groups of participants experienced airway irritation after e-cigarette use. However, the asthmatic group experienced significantly increased irritation, and took twice as long to recover.

Airway inflammation

And it may not be just nicotine-containing e-cigarettes that cause problems. In a 2014 animal study, researchers found that even nicotine-free e-cigarettes caused airway inflammation in mouse models. In addition, the immune mechanisms of the lung and nasal passageways were negatively affected by e-cigarette exposure.

Smoking is still one of the leading causes of death in both the United States and the United Kingdom. It is associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other chronic conditions.

Experts agree that vaping e-cigarettes, because they do not contain tobacco, is likely to be less toxic than traditional smoking. It may also produce fewer negative effects on people with asthma than cigarettes do.

However, that doesn’t mean that vaping is an objectively safe alternative to smoking.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that many e-cigarette additives are harmful or may potentially be harmful — from diacetyl (which causes “popcorn lung“) to heavy metals such as lead.

In a 2017 study, researchers analyzed the vapor of 24 popular e-cigarette brands. They found that every single brand contained at least one additive found potentially harmful chemicals lists maintained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Ultimately, while neither vaping nor smoking is good for you, using e-cigarettes during the transition may help you quit. By being able to control the amount of nicotine you vape, you can taper off nicotine use more slowly than quitting cold turkey.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cautions that e-cigarettes may be of benefit to adult smokers who trade nicotine cigarettes directly for e-cigarettes. However, the CDC advises that vaping is not safe for children, teens, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who have not smoked tobacco previously.

The side effects of vaping differ from person to person. In one comprehensive study of more than 19,000 e-cigarette users, researchers found that the most commonly reported side effects were:

Other commonly reported side effects include:

The side effects of vaping e-cigarettes may be due to the chemicals present in the e-liquid. Nicotine, glycerin, and propylene glycol (PG) are the primary chemicals in e-cigarettes. Depending on the type of e-cigarette, there may be additional flavors and additives, as well.

The potentially harmful chemicals in these products are known to produce adverse effects on the respiratory or cardiac systems. Research suggests that some of these chemicals are similar to those that cause occupational asthma. However, more research is still needed on the link between e-cigarettes directly causing asthma.

If you have asthma, it’s important to stop smoking. Here are some tips for quitting smoking:

  1. Remember that it’s not too late to quit. Your health begins to change dramatically the minute you stop smoking. Twenty-four hours after quitting, your risk of a heart attack decreases. Two weeks to two months after quitting, your lung function increases by about 30 percent. For each year after quitting, your risk of health complications continues to decrease.
  2. Know why you are quitting. It’s not just your health that will experience benefits when you quit smoking. You’ll improve the health of those around you by reducing their exposure to secondhand smoke. Your wallet will be thanking you also — you’ll save more than $1,800 annually by not smoking a pack a day.
  3. Prepare yourself for quitting. The addictive nature of nicotine makes smoking a hard habit to kick. Quitting cold turkey without any preparation beforehand may set you up for failure. Use your resources and support system to map out a plan before you take that first step.
  4. Use your support system. A support system can be helpful on the journey to quit. It can help keep you motivated and hold you accountable for your slip-ups. It’s also great to celebrate with others when you meet those long-term goals.
  5. Find different hobbies and ways to relax. One of the reasons people enjoy smoking is because they feel that it helps them de-stress. Finding other ways to relax can help to curb those thoughts and feelings.
  6. Avoid your triggers. Smoking is a habit that’s often associated with different triggers. For example, any place in which you often smoke may become a trigger. Avoiding these triggers, when possible, can help you avoid a relapse.
  7. Get professional help. If you feel that you need some extra support on quitting, there are professionals who can help. Your doctor may prescribe an FDA-approved medication to help you quit. The American Lung Association offers a Freedom From Smoking course for those who want to quit smoking for good.
  8. Don’t give up and reward yourself for your progress. The road to recovery can be long and difficult. Even if you relapse, you can always try again. It is important not to give up and to celebrate the victories along the way.

Quitting smoking may help to ease your asthma symptoms. However, it is important to keep taking your asthma medications as prescribed.

Most research surrounding e-cigarettes looks at the comparison between e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes. Many of these studies investigate the “harm reduction” aspect of switching to vaping. To date, there is still very little research investigating the long-term effects of vaping on respiratory diseases.

However, initial studies support the idea that vaping may have its own long-term effects. One 2017 laboratory study found that respiratory cells exposed to e-cigarette liquid demonstrated impaired immune functions.

Another study found that e-cigarette smoking impaired the same nasal immune and inflammatory response genes as traditional smoking. In addition, some of these genes affected were unique to e-cigarette smoking.

Although vaping may be a popular alternative to cigarette smoking for adults who are not pregnant, it is not without risks. New research suggests that vaping e-cigarettes may have adverse effects on the respiratory system.

Because of this, quitting smoking (both cigarettes and e-cigarettes) is the best way to avoid exacerbating your asthma symptoms.

If you are looking to quit smoking altogether, the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking is a great resource.