e-cigarettes damage the heart, brain and lungs

By June Shannon Policy News   |   14th Nov 2019

New study adds to serious concerns of the Irish Heart Foundation around health impacts of e-cigarettes particularly for children.

Heart specialists have issued a stark warning about the dangers of e-cigarettes, particularly for young people, as results of new research show the damage they cause to the brain, heart, blood vessels and lungs.

The study, which was published in the European Heart Journal also identifies some of the mechanisms involved in e-cigarette use that damage the body , for which there has been limited information up until now.

Professor Thomas Münzel, of the Department of Cardiology of the University Medical Centre Mainz in Mainz, Germany, who led the study, said e-cigarettes were so dangerous, as well as addictive, that countries should consider banning them.

Prof Münzel said governments should prevent young people having access to tobacco products, tax them heavily, curb the marketing of tobacco products, educate teenagers and their families about the dangers of tobacco products and intensify research into the adverse health consequences of vaping.

“We cannot allow an entire generation to become addicted to nicotine,” he said.

"We cannot allow an entire generation to become addicted to nicotine,"

Professor Thomas Münzel, Department of Cardiology , University Medical Centre Mainz, Germany,

For the study, Prof Münzel and 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 and then 15 minutes afterwards. They also measured how stiff the artery became.

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. The endothelium is responsible for maintaining the correct dilation and constriction of blood vessels, protects tissues from toxic substances and regulates inflammation and blood clotting processes. Endothelial dysfunction is involved in the development of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers also found that an enzyme called NOX-2 was responsible for damage to blood vessels, including those in the lungs and the brain, as a result of e-cigarette vapour.

Prof Münzel said: “The results of the present studies identified several molecular mechanisms whereby e-cigarettes can cause damage to the blood vessels, lungs, heart and brain. 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.”

He added, “our data may indicate that e-cigarettes are not a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes, and their perceived ‘safety’ is not warranted. In addition, we still have no experience about the health side effects of e-cigarettes arising from long-term use. The e-cigarette epidemic in the US and Europe, in particular among our youth, is causing a huge generation of nicotine-addicted people who are being endangered by encouragement to switch from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes. 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.”

“We thoroughly agree with the researchers of this paper that aggressive steps should be taken to protect our children from the health risks caused be e-cigarettes,"

Mr Mark Murphy, Advocacy Officer , Irish Heart Foundation

Mr Mark Murphy, Advocacy Officer with the Irish Heart Foundation described the study as “hugely worrying” and he said it “added to our concern that electronic cigarettes can have detrimental health impacts and should not be merely regarded as a ‘healthy alternative’ to traditional cigarettes.”

“This research highlights the damage that e-cigarette use can have on heart, lung, brain and blood vessel health which only strengthens our concern around the increased use of these products by chronic smokers and in particular young people,” he added.

According to Mr Murphy, over the past decades, Ireland has worked tirelessly to reduce the level of youth smoking and the rise of electronic cigarette use among adolescents threatens to reverse this and produce an entire new generation addicted to nicotine.

“We thoroughly agree with the researchers of this paper that aggressive steps should be taken to protect our children from the health risks caused by e-cigarettes. So it is timely that this piece of research comes on the back of a highly constructive meeting we held with the Minister of Health Simon Harris on the issue of e-cigarette use among adolescents in Ireland where we called on the Minister to swiftly implement legislation to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s, introduce further advertising restrictions and ban flavoured e-cigarettes which appeal to young people. “

Smoking is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to live longer, and it greatly reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke. For more information and support please see our quit smoking page.

(“Short-term e-cigarette vapour exposure causes vascular oxidative stress and dysfunction: evidence for a close connection to brain damage and a key role of the phagocytic NADPH oxidase (NOX-2)”, by Marin Kuntic et al. European Heart Journal. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehz772 )

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