JUL 26, 2018 1:00 PM PDT

E-cigarette Use Impacts Cardiovascular Function

WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Williams

In 2016 3.2% of adults used e-cigarettes, with more than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Electronic cigarettes (E-cigarettes) have been on the market a short time compared to regular cigarettes, so research on E-cigarettes and health is still ongoing. While companies currently follow certain Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, additional information could lead to further regulations and more information on the potential health risks of E-cigarettes. A recent study published in Vascular Medicine sheds light on health risks related to vascular function and e-cigarette use.

What exactly is an E-cigarette? It is a battery-powered device that works by heating a liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled and exhaled. The liquid typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin, flavorings and other chemicals. While some believe E-cigarettes are a reliable aid to quit smoking, the FDA does not currently approve the use of E-cigarettes as a quit smoking aid, and no studies have shown that is effective for helping smokers quit.

Some research suggests that E-cigarettes may be less harmful than cigarettes when used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes, but nicotine in any form is still a highly addicting drug, while other chemicals found in E-cigarettes are harmful when aerosolized and inhaled. They can be detrimental for young adults, with nicotine-containing E-cigarettes leading to addiction and harming brain development. Much like the nicotine in a regular cigarette, the nicotine in E-cigarettes is harmful to developing babies and should be avoided by pregnant women. Other dangerous substances in E-cigarettes, like heavy metals or flavorings, have been linked to lung disease and cancer. Despite the lack of smoke E-cigarettes can still expose surrounding individuals to the chemicals and nicotine via aerosolization from the cigarette itself and exhalation from the smoker, much like secondhand smoke from regular cigarettes.

The study conducted by Franzen, et al. observed the use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes with and without nicotine in fifteen active smokers. Two hours after smoking or vaping subjects were measured for both central and peripheral blood pressure, heart rate, and arterial stiffness. Peripheral blood pressure was raised significantly 45 minutes after e-cigarette use and 15 minutes after smoking a cigarette. Heart rate was elevated after 45 minutes, with an increase of 8% for the first 30 minutes, after smoking an e-cigarette. Comparatively, a traditional cigarette only raised the heart rate for 30 minutes, and non-nicotine e-cigarettes showed no change.

This study was one of the first to look at blood pressure and heart rate elevation about e-cigarette use. Future work should focus on chronic effects, for both nicotine containing and nicotine-free e-cigarettes, on blood pressure and arterial stiffness as well as gender differences in relation to health effects. Overall, Franzen et al. concluded that "The increased parameters within the nicotine-containing devices might be a link to an increased cardiovascular risk which is well known for cigarettes."

To read this study click here! To learn more about E-cigarettes and the associated health risks watch the video below.

Smokefree.gov, Center for Disease Control, National Institute on Drug Abuse

About the Author
  • Caitlin holds a doctorate degree in Microbiology from the University of Georgia where she studied Mycoplasma pneumoniae and its glycan receptors. She received her Bachelor's in Biology from Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!). She has a passion for science communication and STEM education with a goal to improve science literacy. She enjoys topics related to human health, with a particular soft spot for pathogens.
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