No, electronic cigarettes are not a “healthy” alternative to traditional tobacco smoking, and new research confirms this finding. As a follow-up from the 2016 European guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention which stated that there should be more research on the long-term effects of e-cigarettes, researchers from the European Society of Cardiology conducted a study comparing e-cigarette users and non-users.
"There are studies also showing that people that start with e-cigarettes have a tendency to become persistent tobacco cigarette smokers as well,” explained European Society of Cardiology cardiovascular prevention spokesperson Joep Perk. He strongly suggests that e-cigarettes should not be promoted as an alternative to tobacco smoking.
"At the end of the day the best thing is simply to prevent people ever getting into the vicinity of nicotine," he said.
Perk and his team compared changes in cardiac sympathetic activity, measured by changing adrenaline levels in the heart, and oxidative stress between 23 habitual e-cigarette users and 19 non-users. All of the study participants were at least 21 and more than 45 years old. Researchers found that for the habitual users, meaning e-cigarette use on most days of the year, both cardiac adrenaline levels and oxidative stress were enhanced.
Significantly, the same changes in these two measurements are seen in tobacco cigarette users. "Nicotine stimulates the central nervous system, so it's not at all surprising that people continuously taking nicotine get this sympathetic stimulation," Perk explained. "This then might lead to irregular heartbeat and raised blood pressure, and probably has long-term deleterious effects on the blood vessel walls."
Researchers cannot yet say that negative effects from e-cigarettes, like those observed in the present study, are so bad that they will cause premature death for people that use them. "To prove this you have to put people on e-cigarettes for 10 to 15 years and see how many die early - a study that will not be done for ethical reasons,” Perk explained.
Perk said that while e-cigarettes are used in nicotine replacement therapy, clinicians should exert caution when prescribing them to people as an anti-smoking tools. Other smoking cessation schemes, such as chewing gum or patches, always include the decision to taper off use and eventually stop,” he said. “This is not in general the case with e-cigarettes, which tend to be seen as a replacement and not a weaning off nicotine addiction. In fact they prolong the addiction."
Perk’s study was recently published in the journal JAMA Cardiology.
Source: European Society of Cardiology