When people use an electronic cigarette for the first time, many of them will cough and possibly splutter. Why is this? Is it due to an unfamiliarity with the experience, or is there a chemical reason behind it?

Most vapers would agree that one of the biggest reasons for this curious rite of passage is propylene glycol. A very rough estimation based on an analysis of forum posts on the internet suggests that 10% of the vaping community are sensitive to the glycol, which is found in most electronic cigarette liquids, and a further small percentage are actually allergic to the propylene glycol compound. Strangely, it has been observed many vapers cough with the first use but then puzzlingly don’t cough after further usage. There isn’t one comprehensive explanation for this, but instead there are numerous contributing factors which experts believe are responsible for the lack of coughing after the first inhalation.

One explanation is the technique used while inhaling that most learn quickly. Many who use vaping pens often draw vapour into their mouths and hold the vapour there before letting it reach the lungs. Some believe this allows the body time to adjust to the texture and flavour of the vapour, which in turn prevents the coughing. The technique was tested in a survey, and an estimated 30% of participants found that it did help with the coughing issue. Another contributing factor has been suggested to be the strength of the nicotine and the sensation of the vapour hitting the back of the throat, with a higher nicotine level supposedly leading to a “harsher” vaping experience, which in turn leads to an increased likelihood of coughing. However, it is worth noting that some users require a higher strength of nicotine in order to transition from normal cigarettes to the e-cigarette counterpart, so maybe a small price to pay.

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