The notion that e-cigarettes are healthier than regular ones might be going up in smoke.
Several new studies presented last week at the European Respiratory Society International Congress highlight numerous risks associated with their usage.
One new study demonstrated for the first time that e-cigarettes with nicotine can possibly cause stiffening in the arteries.
This is a known effect of smoking traditional cigarettes, which can lead to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular complications.
In one presented study, 15 young, healthy individuals were recruited. Some were asked to use e-cigarettes with nicotine for 30 minutes on one day, and the others were asked to use e-cigarettes without nicotine on another day.
In measurements taken two and four hours after exposure, both types of vapor caused significantly increased blood pressure.
Increased heart rate and arterial stiffness were only present after using vapor containing nicotine.
“The increase was temporary. However, the same temporary effects on arterial stiffness have also been demonstrated following use of conventional cigarettes,” said Dr. Magnus Lundbäck, lead author and a faculty member at Karolinska Institute in Sweden, in a press release.
“Chronic exposure to both active and passive cigarette smoking causes a permanent increase in arterial stiffness,” he added. “Therefore, we speculate that chronic exposure to e-cigarettes with nicotine may cause permanent effects on arterial stiffness in the long term.”
May not help you quit smoking
Other studies presented at the conference challenge the notion that e-cigarettes are a useful cessation tool for individuals trying to quit smoking tobacco.
In a survey of 30,000 people in Sweden, e-cigarette use was more common among people who were current smokers, compared to nonsmokers or former smokers.
“One argument for e-cigarettes is that they could help smokers to quit, but our study does not support this argument. If that was the case, e-cigarette use would have been most common among former smokers,” said Linnea Hedman, PhD, presenter of the study and a behavioral scientist at Umeå University in Sweden, in a press release.
Lundbäck concurs, telling Healthline that while he believes e-cigarettes are safer than conventional ones, their status as a cessation aid is debatable.
“Dual users” — people who regularly smoke both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes — are also more likely to experience respiratory symptoms such as chronic coughing, wheezing, and increased mucus production than individuals who only smoked one or the other or didn’t smoke at all.
E-cigarette liquids questioned
Finally, one of the more controversial topics surrounding e-cigarettes is the liquids that are vaporized.
These concoctions are made with a variety of chemicals and sweet or fruity flavor additives that many argue appeal to children.
In his presentation, Dr. Constantine Vardavas from the University of Crete and his colleagues sampled a random selection of e-cigarette liquids from brands available throughout Europe.
They said that every single liquid contained at least one substance with some level of health risk. That conclusion is similar to a 2015 study from Harvard, which noted many of the same concerns.
Chemicals such as methyl cyclopentenolone, acetyl pyrazine, and ethyl vanillin are all known to have the potential to cause asthmatic symptoms and respiratory irritation.
The chemical diacetyl, a documented flavor additive in certain flavors of e-cigarette liquid, is known to cause a serious lung ailment known as bronchiolitis obliterans, or “popcorn lung,” because of the chemical’s use in butter popcorn flavoring.
Experts contacted by Healthline agree that while all of these studies point to different negative aspects of e-cigarette usage, the aggregate message is simple.
E-cigarettes just aren’t as safe as we might have thought.
Furthermore, the experts also expressed concern with how e-cigarettes are marketed to young individuals, particularly through flavorings.
They said the findings presented by Hedman on “dual usage” is particularly alarming.
“We really, really worry about e-cigarettes being made available to youngsters,” Dr. Norman H. Edelman, senior scientific advisor at the American Lung Association, told Healthline.
“The data shows… that most youngsters who vape also smoke tobacco cigarettes, so it’s not being used as a replacement and they are getting hooked on nicotine, and we don’t know what they will do with that when they become adults,” Edelman added.
Trade associations for the e-cigarette industry, including the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, say e-cigarettes are not toxic and are safe to use.
Edelman said the lung association doesn’t support the premise that e-cigarettes are any safer than traditional cigarettes.
He said e-cigarettes are too recent an innovation to fully understand their long-term health impacts — both acutely within the body, and also from a public health perspective.
The experts contacted by Healthline concur that there’s significant more work to be done before the effects of these devices are known.
For Edelman, this new research is indicative of a larger trend of the yet to be discovered dangers of e-cigarettes.
“The science is following the usual trajectory: The more you look the more you find,” he said. “Every time we look, we find another deleterious or potentially deleterious effect. We might have to wait years to know the cumulative effect.”