COPD and Vaping

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on November 03, 2021
3 min read

You know cigarettes and COPD are a bad combination. You tried to quit but couldn’t stick with it. Now you hear that electronic cigarettes (also called e-cigarettes or vapes) won’t harm your lungs. And they might help you kick your tobacco habit for good.

We’re not absolutely certain if e-cigarettes are less toxic than the real thing. Either way, they’re not a good choice for anyone with COPD. They can make symptoms worse. What’s more, they don’t live up to the hype as a way to stop smoking.

Tobacco smoke contains hundreds of chemicals that can cause COPD or make it worse. With e-cigarettes and other vaping devices, you inhale aerosol (mist) instead of smoke. But vapes can cause the same lung inflammation that tobacco does. And they still have things you don’t want in your body, like:

  • Nicotine
  • A buttery flavoring called diacetyl. It scars the tiny air sacs in your lungs and narrows your airways. Diacetyl can also cause a serious disease called popcorn lung that has the same symptoms as COPD.
  • Heavy metals like lead, tin, and nickel
  • Tiny particles that work their way deep into your lungs

You get a good dose of these from secondhand vape mist, too, just like from secondhand smoke.

Vaping can make COPD worse. But there’s not enough research to show that e-cigarettes actually cause it. It takes years for COPD to show up, and e-cigarettes haven’t been around that long. One short-term study found that people who vaped got COPD more often than people who didn’t. But other studies didn’t find this.

Another reason not to vape: A new lung illness linked to e-cigarettes that the CDC calls EVALI (e-cigarette, or vaping, associated lung injury). No one is sure what causes it, but some symptoms are similar to COPD, like:

It seems to strike healthy young men most often. Most end up in the hospital, and some have died. Until it gets a handle on the outbreak, the CDC says it’s best not to vape. If you must, be sure not to buy e-cigarettes off the street.

E-cigarettes and other vaping devices claim to help you give up cigarettes for good. Over time, you’re supposed to crave nicotine less and less. But so far, nothing shows that these things work better than other ways to quit. One study found that smokers who vaped actually smoked more. And some people vape and smoke cigarettes -- a double whammy.

Your best bet is to talk to your doctor to learn the best way for you to quit. Ask about FDA-approved products like nicotine gum and patches.

If you strike out with these, don’t give up. You have options. One is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It teaches you to think and act in healthy ways. Your doctor can refer you to a CBT therapist. Another is mindfulness meditation. Both have helped a lot of people quit.