We have covered e-cigarettes previously, but more data about their safety is emerging. Most recently, new research has revealed the use of e-cigarettes may increase the risk of heart disease.
In 1964, the percentage of smokers in the U.S. peaked at 42.7 percent, and in that year the US surgeon general released a report linking smoking to lung cancer and many other preventable diseases. The percentage of smokers in the U.S. declined to 18 percent by 2012. There has also been a decline in smoking-related deaths from lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. Despite all we know and the efforts to educate consumers about the dangers of smoking cigarettes, there are still about 42 million smokers in the U.S.
In 2006, the landscape of tobacco products changed with the introduction of e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes make vapor from a liquid containing nicotine, flavorings and other substances in a solvent. They have claimed to be safer than traditional cigarettes because it does not expose users to the same cancer-causing compounds as conventional burning tobacco.
In 2016, the FDA finalized a rule to extend its authority to cover e-cigarettes and related products, including their manufacture, advertising, sale and distribution. That should make these products safer but risks remain, including heart failure, oxidative stress and toxins.
Heart failure is due to weakening or stiffening of the heart muscle, which decreases its ability to pump blood to the entire body. Heart failure leads to shortness of breath, leg swelling, fatigue and exercise intolerance. Two risk factors were found elevated in the e-cigarette smokers when compared to non-smokers.
The heartbeat pattern of e-cigarette users indicated elevated levels of adrenaline, also called epinephrine, which is a risk factor for the development of heart disease. Nicotine in e-cigarettes is known to elevate adrenaline levels, putting smokers in a constant state of fight-or-flight, which should only happen if a person is in immediate danger.
The study also found elevated markers of oxidative stress in e-cigarette smokers. Chemicals called free radicals that produce oxidative stress are normally eliminated by a system of anti-oxidants. Excess free radicals have detrimental effects on cells and tissues. The heart muscle is very active metabolically and produces an abundance of free radicals. Increases in oxidative stress from e-cigarette use results in damage to heart cells. Continuous oxidative stress can lead to remodeling of the heart, contributing to heart failure.
Most e-cigarette liquids contain propylene glycol, glycerin or a combination of the two. They are non-toxic, however, when aerosolized by the heating elements in e-cigarettes, they produce toxic byproducts like formaldehyde. The levels are low at first but increase with longer sessions, hotter settings and the buildup of residue on the heating elements.
It has been argued that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes but as the data accumulates, it is becoming more and more apparent that they cannot be considered safe. It is still the best choice to not smoke, but if you do, get the help you need to quit – now.