The e-cigarette industry and its customers received what, on the surface, appears to be good news – but it doesn’t mean that the devices or the liquids used for “vaping” are necessarily harmless to human health.
Last week, a British research study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The purpose of the study was to compare amounts of carcinogenic chemicals in the bodies of cigarette smokers with that of former cigarette smokers who have switched to e-cigarettes and/or have been undergoing nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
Studying over 180 participants, the researchers determined that those subjects who either used e-cigarettes exclusively or were undergoing NRT alone had “significantly lower” levels of carcinogens present in their urine and saliva. As a result, several media outlets, including ScienceDaily, Reuters and several newspapers are proclaiming e-cigarettes to be a “safer alternative” to regular, combustible cigarettes.
However, the results of the British study are far from conclusive. Furthermore, another research study from the UCLA School of Medicine now indicates that use of e-cigarettes can increase the risk of heart disease. That study involved 42 participants, with an average age of 28. The researchers’ conclusion:
“Habitual e-cigarette use was associated with a shift in cardiac autonomic balance toward sympathetic predominance and increased oxidative stress, both associated with increased cardiovascular risk.”
According to Dr. Holly Middelkauff, one of the UCLA study’s co-authors, the results came as a bit of a surprise – particularly since e-cigarette manufacturers continually advertise their products as a “safe alternative” to combustible tobacco cigarettes.
She said, “we found the same types of abnormalities in our e-cigarette users that are reported in tobacco cigarette smokers,” adding that “these abnormalities are associated with increased cardiac risk.” Although this study did not demonstrate a solid link between e-cigarette use and elevated risk for heart disease – only an “association” – Dr. Middelkauff says “e-cigarette use has real physiologic, adverse effects…they are not harmless.”
What happens is that e-cigarette smoking causes levels of adrenaline (the “fight-or-flight” hormone) to rise in the human body. This in turn raises the heart rate and increases blood pressure – both of which put added stress on the heart muscle. This is likely due to nicotine, says Dr. Middelkauf: “Nicotine is the most biologically active component in e-cigarette aerosol, and is an airway irritant. Nicotine increases adrenaline levels, and may activate a number of adverse systems that are harmful in the long run.”
One of Middelkauf’s colleagues, Aruni Bhatnagar of the University of Louisville, agrees. Although he points out that e-cigarette liquids contain fewer chemicals than are found in regular tobacco cigarettes, he adds that vaping liquids “contain some residual components, particularly nicotine, that may present a not insignificant problem.”