New research showing damage to the brain, heart, blood vessels and lungs through e-cigarettes has led cardiologists to call for their ban.
The study, published in the European Heart Journal this week, also identifies some of the mechanisms involved, an aspect for which there has been limited information until now.
Study lead Professor Thomas Münzel of the Department of Cardiology at University Medical Centre Mainz, Germany, said e-cigarettes were so dangerous, as well as addictive, that countries should consider banning them. Some countries, including India, Brazil, Singapore, Mexico and Thailand, have already done so.
In particular, Professor Münzel is calling for governments to take action to protect youth, the sector shown by figures from around the world to be the largest market.
“Figures show over 3.6 million children in the US use e-cigarettes, with a jump of 78 per cent, from 11.7 per cent to 20.8 per cent, among US high school students reporting e-cigarette use from 2017 to 2018”, he said.
“In the UK, 1.6 per cent of those aged 11-18 use e-cigarettes more than once a week, compared with 0.5 per cent in 2015.
“Vaping, which was intended as an aid to help smokers quit, has developed into a trend among young people, leading to nicotine addiction – even among those who had not smoked before.”
Cancer Council Australia says figures for 2017 show 13 per cent of teenagers aged between 12 and 17 in this country had already tried e-cigarettes.
To carry out the research, Professor Münzel and his colleagues investigated the effect of e-cigarette vapour on blood flow in the brachial artery in the upper arm in 20 healthy smokers before they vaped an e-cigarette, then 15 minutes afterwards. They also measured how stiff the artery became.
Additionally, they exposed 151 mice to cigarette vapour over one, three or five days for 20 minutes six times a day.
They found that just one vaping episode increased heart rates and caused the arteries to stiffen, and the inner lining of the arteries, the endothelium, to stop working properly in the smokers. Endothelial dysfunction is involved in the development of cardiovascular disease.
Results from the mice showed that an enzyme, NOX-2, was responsible for damage to blood vessels, including those in the lungs and the brain, as a result of e-cigarette vapour. Mice that were unable to produce NOX-2 were protected from the damaging effects of vaping.
The full study, available here, provides additional details and data.
“The results of the present studies identified several molecular mechanisms whereby e-cigarettes can cause damage to the blood vessels, lungs, heart and brain,” Professor Münzel said. “This is a consequence of toxic chemicals that are produced by the vaping process and may also be present at lower concentrations in the liquid itself.
“The e-cigarette epidemic, in particular among youth, is causing a huge generation of nicotine-addicted people, who are being endangered by encouragement to switch from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes.
“Our data may indicate that e-cigarettes are not a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes, and their perceived ‘safety’ is not warranted.
“Research like ours should serve as a warning about their dangers, and aggressive steps should be taken to protect our children from health risks caused by e-cigarettes.”
The full paper can be accessed here.