Vaping May Be More Dangerous Than Cigarette Smoking, Studies Show
December 18, 2019
Some people take up vaping – or inhaling vapor from electronic cigarettes – to avoid the health hazards of smoking cigarettes made with tobacco. But when it comes to your heart health, a pair of recent studies show e-cigarettes are just as dangerous – and possibly are even more dangerous – than traditional cigarettes.
Researchers who conducted two separate studies reported they found e-cigarette smokers had more negative heart disease risk factors – namely, total and LDL cholesterol – and that e-cigarettes decrease blood flow to the heart, the American Heart Association said in a news release.
The first study found that vaping can worsen several heart disease risk factors at levels equal to tobacco cigarettes, while the second found that e-cigarettes decrease blood flow in the heart even more than tobacco cigarettes.
Effects on Blood Cholesterol
In the first study, researchers looked at the impact of e-cigarettes on lipids and glucose in the blood. They recruited 476 healthy human participants without cardiovascular disease who were either nonsmokers, e-cigarette-only smokers, smokers of e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes and those who smoked tobacco cigarettes only.
Results showed that total cholesterol and LDL or “bad” cholesterol was higher in sole e-cigarette users compared to nonsmokers.
The researchers said that the findings suggest that if tobacco cigarette smokers who use e-cigarettes for a healthier alternative to tobacco won’t benefit by the switch.
Many factors influence development of coronary artery disease and heart attacks, and cholesterol is an important one, says James Cireddu, MD, medical director of University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute at University Hospitals Bedford Medical Center.
“Although we do not understand all of the pathways, the CITU study shows us that higher levels of bad cholesterol like LDL and triglycerides are associated with e-cigarette use,” Dr. Cireddu says.
Impact on Blood Flow
In the second study, researchers analyzed heart blood flow, a measure of coronary vascular function, of 19 young adult smokers immediately before and after smoking either e-cigarettes or tobacco cigarettes. They examined coronary vascular function by a myocardial contrast echocardiography while participants were at rest and after performing a handgrip exercise to simulate physiologic stress.
In smokers who smoke tobacco cigarettes, blood flow increased modestly after cigarette inhalation and then decreased with subsequent stress. However, with those who vaped, blood flow decreased after inhalation at rest and also after handgrip stress.
Researchers said that the results show e-cigarettes may confer as much as or potentially even more harm to users and especially patients at risk for vascular disease.
Reduced blood supply to heart muscle is directly connected to reduced quality of life from symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, Dr. Cireddu says.
“This relatively small study showed that e-cigarettes have the potential to decrease heart muscle blood supply, not just under the stress of exercise like traditional cigarettes but even at rest,” he says.
“Smaller studies like this help push the medical community to plan future studies that will expose the true day-to-day health costs of vaping.”
There already is a clear connection between e-cigarettes and a lung condition called E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI), Dr. Cireddu says.
“Recent studies should make us all more concerned about the impact of traditional and e-cigarettes on the heart as well,” Dr. Cireddu says.
“The question becomes how prepared are e-cigarette users to act as guinea pigs for the ill effects of a plethora of superheated chemicals on their hearts and lungs that we may not fully grasp until decades into the future?”
The highly trained and experienced heart and vascular specialists at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute offer comprehensive care for a wide array of cardiovascular conditions. Learn more about our team approach for premier cardiovascular care.