Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes were once considered as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. Now, officials from the American Heart Association (AHA) warn that vaping and second-hand vaping may be as hazardous to cardiovascular health as their tar-filled counterparts.
This cautionary message, one of the most forceful from a medical association in recent years, aligns with the mounting evidence of potential heart and lung damage linked to vaping.
Adding to the growing concerns surrounding vaping, a recent study unveiled another disconcerting fact. E-cigarette devices have hooked over 2.5 million American youth on nicotine.
E-cigarettes, introduced to the U.S. in the early 2010s, rapidly gained popularity as they appeared to offer a less harmful means of satisfying nicotine cravings. However, the AHA asserts that these vaping devices contain a mixture of nicotine, solvents, thickeners, and flavorings that could pose serious risks to heart health akin to traditional cigarette smoking.
Dr. Jason Rose is a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine and chair of the AHA’s scientific statement writing committee. “Because e-cigarettes and other vaping systems have only been in the U.S. for about 15 years, we do not yet have enough information on their long-term health effects, so we must rely on shorter-term studies, molecular experiments, and research in animals to try to assess the true risk of using e-cigarettes,” explains Dr. Rose.
Furthermore, e-cigarettes with high nicotine concentrations contain other compounds. Lab studies have shown that these compounds can increase the risk of heart and lung diseases in animals, warranting more comprehensive research into their long-term impacts, particularly as more than 2.5 million young individuals currently vape.
In spite of their popularity, e-cigarette companies’ claims about their products being a safer way to quit smoking lack substantial evidence, beyond any temporary benefits, according to the AHA’s deputy chief science and medical officer, Dr. Rose Marie Robertson.
“The lack of long-term scientific safety data on e-cigarette use, along with the potential for the addiction to e-cigarette products seen among youth, are among the reasons the American Heart Association does not recommend e-cigarette use for cessation efforts,” says Dr. Robertson.
The AHA recommends that those keen to quit nicotine should opt for FDA-approved methods such as nicotine replacement gum or patches, acknowledging the challenges that lie in the journey to overcoming addiction.
“And all of this needs to be undertaken with the understanding that quitting often takes many tries, and any failures should be seen as just episodes to learn from on the road to finally beating a powerful addiction for good,” says Dr. Robertson.
Scientists also need to conduct further research into the impact of e-cigarettes on individuals who use both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes. Doctors call them “dual users”.
While the vapor emitted by these devices is free of the acrid smoke and tar produced by traditional cigarettes, the long-term effects remain largely unknown.
In 2019, we observed a troubling trend: a surge in acute lung injuries linked to vaping. More than 2,800 hospitalizations recorded, including 15% in under-18s. This led to a stern warning from the American Medical Association against e-cigarette use and a call for a blanket ban on all unapproved products.
E-cigarettes, apart from carrying the addictive substance nicotine (often up to five percent), contain potentially harmful additives such as flavoring agents, glycerol, and metals released when the battery heats the liquids.
Doctors have found associations between long-term exposure to flavoring additives like diacetyl and acetyl propionyl and respiratory issues. These include shortness of breath, chronic cough, asthma, and obstructed airways.
Additionally, exposure to the glycerol in e-cigarettes can cause health problems. The AHA experts stated, “Glycol mixtures are used to create theatrical fog and smoke, and long-term occupational exposure is associated with higher reports of wheezing and chest tightness. Short-term exposure to glycol mixtures is associated with acute dry cough and throat irritation, as well as decreased lung function in individuals with higher exposures.”
In another alarming discovery, doctors are now warning about the dangers of second-hand vaping, which releases 22 times the safe level of potentially poisonous microscopic toxins known as particulate matter, capable of causing respiratory issues and potentially entering the bloodstream.
Once thought to be harmless due to the absence of pungent smoke, these findings reveal that e-cigarettes, even when used for less than 10 minutes in a closed car, can significantly increase the concentration of dangerous particulate matter, underlining the pressing need for stringent regulations and extensive research into the impact of vaping on public health.