E-cigarettes as bad for arteries as regular smokes, study finds

  • Vaping damages blood vessels just like cigarettes
  • Evidence growing that with heart disease vaping may not reduce harm
  • Quitting altogether still the best option

Electronic cigarettes are touted by some as safer than smoking tobacco. But a new study finds they damage blood vessels just like traditional cigarettes do.

Among hundreds of healthy young adults, researchers found that vaping and smoking cigarettes cause the same harm to arteries that leads to heart attacks, strokes and heart disease.

"The evidence is growing that e-cigarettes may not be a reduced harm product when it comes to heart disease," said lead researcher Jessica Fetterman, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

Abnormalities in artery stiffness persist in e-cigarette users, and no evidence shows that e-cigarette use reduces cardiovascular injury, dysfunction or harm associated with the use of combustible tobacco products, the study authors said.

Stiffening of the arteries

For the study, Fetterman and her colleagues collected data on more than 400 men and women, aged 21 to 45, without heart disease or risk factors for heart disease.

Ninety-four were nonsmokers, 285 smoked traditional cigarettes, 36 used e-cigarettes and 52 used both traditional and e-cigarettes. All of the e-cigarette users had smoked tobacco in the past.

Fetterman's team found that smokers who switched to e-cigarettes and those who smoked cigarettes and also vaped had stiffening of the arteries. This can damage small blood vessels and lead to heart disease.

The investigators also found that endothelial cells, which line blood vessels, had the same degree of damage whether people used e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes, or both.

Fetterman said longer-term research is needed to study whether arterial damage from e-cigarettes alone changes over time.

FDA completely asleep

Stanton Glantz is a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. He said, "Adults take e-cigarettes up because they think they're not as dangerous as tobacco cigarettes. But what this study is showing is that in terms of these very important measures of vascular function, they are basically the same as a cigarette."

Glantz thinks it's time for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action to warn people of the dangers of vaping.

"The FDA has been completely asleep at the switch on this," said Glantz, who wasn't involved in the new study.

The FDA still clings to the idea that e-cigarettes are better than tobacco cigarettes, Glantz said.

"Everybody thought, including me, that because you didn't have combustion, e-cigarettes had to be a lot better," he added.

Better to quit altogether 

But this study and others show that, even though there's no combustion, vaping floods the body with chemicals that cause the same harm as regular tobacco cigarettes, Glantz said.

Dr Naomi Hamburg, a co-author of the study, urges people not to vape or smoke, especially now during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are not seeing any evidence that electronic cigarettes are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes," said Hamburg, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

"During the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is important to know that both vaping and smoking traditional cigarettes lead to lung damage and may worsen pneumonia," Hamburg said. "As a heart doctor, I encourage everyone to quit vaping and smoking."

The report was published online in April in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Image credit: Unsplash

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