Why Do I Cough When I Vape?

The first time I tried vaping, I was not ready for the painful coughing fit that followed. Having been a smoker for several years, I figured vaping would be like smoking exceptionally smooth candy.

Turned out that I was very, very wrong. E-cigarettes have a very different method of inhalation compared to most tobacco smokers. Something that I vaguely recollected my friend warning me about before receiving an “I told you so”, moments later.

How Many New Vapers Cough When Vaping?
As noted before, I was someone who near immediately began coughing after taking too long and too hard a drag. This is a common issue among smokers switching to electronic cigarettes, which was why I found myself unsurprised at the conclusion of my research.

My initial, unscientific answer to this question would be to say “most of the time”. But according to this survey of 600 vapers, 57% of them began coughing in response their first vape hit.

So as a general metric, a little over half the people who ever pick up an e-cigarette will more than likely cough during their first attempt at vaping. So try not to get discouraged from a little discomfort. Coughing subsides for most vapors in due time. 

Why Do You Cough When You Vape?
There are a number of possible reasons why e-cigarettes cause vapers to cough.

1. Incorrect vaping technique from new vapers and former smokers.
2. Irritants in the vapor cause coughing, specifically the propylene glycol (PG).
3. Nicotine strength is too high and causes a massive throat hit.
4. Cilia is regrowing in former smokers.
5. Vaping dehydrates the body and may leave the throat itchy.
6. Sometimes hot e-liquid spits back up into a user’s mouth.
7. Different devices may contribute to coughing due to unfamiliarity.
8. The unexpected taste of sweet, or menthol vape juice, may cause a person to cough.
9. The wick might be dry, causing a mouthful a burned cotton.
10. The wick might be carbonized and require replacement.

As seen here, there are quite of a few issues that can cause irritation to the throat and lungs. So, that begets the question.

What can be done about it? 

7 Ways to Stop Coughing When Switching to E-Cigs
Switching from smoking to vaping can be a difficult endeavor. After being used to one medium, getting that same physiological experience from puffing on a vape will take a period of adjustment. It often takes many smokers several tries to swap over to vaping, and even then many have difficulties with completely putting down tobacco. 

Often smokers try vaping only to return primarily to smoking a short time later. 


A major reason smokers remain with tobacco as their preferred nicotine delivery system can be attributed to negative first impressions. Someone trying out a friend’s vape might find it difficult to form a positive view if they are busy coughing their lungs out. 

Some people stick around anyway and try to tough it out, however. Here are some suggestions to mitigate the coughing. 

1. Try Using Different Techniques
The primary issue between switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes are the differences in technique. Some people learn to breathe smoke directly into their lungs, while others pull the smoke into their mouths before breathing in. This can cause some issues for a smoker who moves onto vaping. 

Where one technique works for smoking, it might not work with vaping. In my own experience, drawing vapor into my mouth before inhaling was how I first began. While I can now inhale directly to my lungs, it took me some time to be able to do so and not cough. 

In any case, take some time to experiment as everyone has different experiences when switching to vaping. 

2. Change up Your Juice Ratio
PG and vegetable glycerine (VG) are what makes up the body of e-liquid. It’s this mixture of liquid that produces the thick clouds of vapor that e-cigarettes are known for. Everything else, including nicotine and flavorings, are additives that changes how e-juice tastes and feels.

It’s possible for PG to act as an irritant, and some people are allergic to this fluid. PG as well as nicotine are what determines the level of harshness, known as a throat hit, is felt. A good way to smooth out e-juice is to get a blend with a higher VG to PG ratio.  

Something else that can be done is to reduce the level of nicotine until coughing begins to subside. Once a vaper’s throat and lungs are used to e-juice vapor, their nicotine level can slowly be raised until the desired level is reached.  

It might even be worth it to switch out flavors entirely. Some people have trouble with menthol or sweet flavors, and that is something to consider.

3. Just Wait it Out
For smokers switching to vaping, there is often a period of adjustment where the cilia of the throat begin to regrow. The presence of vapor can cause a tickling sensation in the throat that causes coughing. Others who switch over often find themselves hacking up phlegm as their bodies begin to clear out the tar in their lungs. 

There is not much that can be done in this case. In my case, I took baby hits of my vape for the first few hours until I grew comfortable enough for longer drags. Then I’d start coughing after too big a hit and start the process all over again. It took about a week or two for my throat and lungs to grow comfortable with the feel of swirling vapor.    

4. Stay Hydrated
Much like smoking, vaping dehydrates the body so it pays to have a glass of water handy. This is especially true for first time vapers who begin to chain vape. It is easy to start puffing away and not even realize it until someone points it out.

My tip is to keep a water bottle and some chapstick handy.     

5. Lower the Wattage or Restrict Airflow
There could be several major issues spawning from an overly powerful device. Generally, the stronger the device, the higher the watts, the more vapor is created, and the hotter it gets. The latter two reasons are what cause coughing.

With nowhere else to go, a larger amount of vapor will begin to condense inside the lungs, throat, and mouth. This can cause all sorts of irritation, especially for those who take larger hits, or enjoy holding vapor in their lungs for a long period of time.  

By lowering the wattage or restricting the airflow, a person will be able to take longer hits without inhaling too much vapor for their body to handle.  

6. Stop Chain Vaping and Slow Down
It’s incredibly tempting to start puffing away cloud after cloud. Tempting, but terrible for an e-cigarette.

When e-liquid begins to heat up, it increases the chances of it overflowing the chamber. This results in hot juice being spat into the user’s mouth instead of the expected cloud of vapor. Another issue is that the wick might not have time to soak properly between hits. This can cause the something known as a ‘dry hit’.

Dry hits are as incredibly painful as they are unexpected. The combination of burnt cotton and heated air is guaranteed to cause a horrible cough, and leave behind a terrible taste. Again, this painful event can be avoided by slowing down and remaining aware of a device’s juice reservoir.

7. Time to Change the Coil
After a period of use, an e-cigarette will need to have its old coil swapped for a new one. The wick that soaks up the juice is made of cotton, and this cotton is heated up to create vapor. After repeated use, eventually the cotton is going to start getting burnt and clogged with carbon.

It is difficult to say when exactly a coil should be changed. For some vapers, a coil may last as long as month or possibly as little a week. There are two constant rules that can be followed, however.

The first sign that a coil needs to be changed is when the juice begins to taste slightly off. The second will be the lesser volume and clarity of vapor being breathed out. Take it Easy, Take it Slow

A little over one in two people will tend to cough the first time they try vaping. It is normal and there is probably nothing to be concerned about. For smokers who are switching to vapes for health or lifestyle reasons, coughing for a few weeks is completely normal.

There are a few things to learn, but mostly it is patience that will cause coughing to subside. Coughing and throat irritation will be present for a week or two, but eventually it will cease to be a problem.