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Is vaping an alternative to smoking for COPD patients?

Published on September 12, 2022

5 minutes

Vaping has become a popular alternative to smoking.

In fact, many people start vaping as a means to quit smoking. But, really, how much safer is vaping compared to smoking? Researchers don’t fully understand the long-term health effects of vaping yet, but there is a strong indication that it can affect the lungs and cause chronic respiratory disease.

How does smoking affect the lungs?

Over the years we have learned of the harmful effects of cigarettes and other irritants on our lungs. Cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals including phenols, nicotine, naphthalene, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen cyanide, and liquid vapors such as formaldehyde, methane, benzene, ammonia, and acetone. A large number of these chemicals are produced when tobacco burns. Research has shown that 69 of these 7000 chemicals are carcinogenic, or known to cause cancer. 

The effects of smoking can last even after quitting, as it damages your lungs, and in particular, the small air sacs (alveoli) that allow for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body. Prolonged exposure to lung irritants can lead to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is an inflammatory respiratory disease that causes shortness of breath, tightness of the chest, excessive mucus production, and coughing. People with COPD have trouble breathing and have to take supplemental oxygen to maintain normal levels of oxygen in their blood to carry out daily activities. 

But, what about vaping? Let’s explore what is in a vape, if it can be a good alternative to smoking cigarettes, and how it affects people with pre-existing respiratory illnesses like COPD.

What is in a Vape, or E-Cigarette?

If you think vapes contain harmless water vapor, you are sadly mistaken! A vape contains a special liquid (e-liquid) that is heated to become an aerosol that can be inhaled. This liquid contains several chemicals including nicotine (a highly addictive drug found in tobacco), propylene glycol, acrolein, diacetyl flavoring and even some known carcinogens. As the liquid is heated up, the harmful chemicals start to form.

Did you know? There are several types of vaping products or e-cigarettes, which include:

- E-cigarettes

- Vapes

- Vape Pens or Dab Pens

- Tanks

- Mods or Pod-mods 

Can vaping make your COPD worse?

Did you know that a JUUL pod (vaping product) has the same amount of nicotine as 20 cigarettes?


Vaping is highly addictive, which can make it harder to quit as a COPD patient. Although there isn’t enough scientific research conducted on vaping yet, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has discovered a new lung injury caused by vaping called VALI (vaping, associated lung illness). This illness has similar symptoms to COPD including shortness of breath, fatigue, and cough.

As vapes contain several harmful chemicals that irritate the lung, it can cause lung inflammation similar to tobacco smoke. Lung inflammation leads to COPD exacerbations, which may even lead to hospitalization. Diacetyl in the e-liquid scars your alveoli, or tiny air sacs in your lungs that allow for gas exchange. Damage to your air sacs can make it difficult to breathe and receive enough oxygen for your body’s needs, worsening your COPD. Secondhand smoke from vapes can also contain these harmful chemicals, so if you are a COPD patient, limit your exposure to other people vaping or using e-cigarettes.

If you are trying to quit smoking cigarettes using vapes, or e-cigarettes, then consider the harmful side effects. As a COPD patient, vapes can make your symptoms worse and may cause dangerous and life-threatening exacerbations.

How to quit smoking with COPD?

It is important to remember that any form of smoking is harmful to your health. Smoking is highly addictive and we understand the difficulty you may face when trying to quit smoking. Many people try and fail several times in their lives but, in order to improve your health, it is strongly advised to quit smoking. 

A research study over 5 years found that when COPD patients were using e-cigarettes for the purpose of quitting smoking, they noticed less harmful health effects than those resulting from tobacco smoking. However, another study found that long-term smokers who vaped actually ended up smoking more. It can be a very dangerous combination if you smoke cigarettes and vape.

The best way to quit smoking is to speak to your family doctor and seek help from local resources. They can provide more information about Health Canada approved products such as nicotine patches or gum. Addiction is a mental health disorder, which requires professional support to identify and change behavior patterns. Some people have benefited from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or mindfulness meditation to help them quit smoking. The Government of Canada website contains several useful resources and provincial services that provide specialist support to quit smoking. As a COPD patient, you may need support from your family, friends and healthcare provider to overcome the addiction.

At VitalAire, our clinicians work closely with you and your family to identify your needs and support any change in lifestyle as a result of living with COPD.  We offer several types of oxygen therapy products and services to help you live your best life. 

Home oxygen therapy improves oxygen levels in your blood, which help you:

  • Stay active
  • Improve your breathing 
  • Feel more energetic
  • Improve your quality of sleep
  • Reduce exacerbations and hospitalization

If you are a long-term smoker and worry you may have COPD then take this short quiz to find out if you are at risk for COPD. Your family doctor can use our referral form, so you can start therapy and start living everyday with the support you need. Contact us to learn more about our oxygen services.