Risks Associated With E-Cigarettes
By Sean Lally, Staff Writer
When it comes to E-cigarettes, there’s still a lot we don’t know, but according to recent research there are two risks: childhood asthma and heart disease. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Cardiology, out of 43 subjects (23 of whom were e-cigarette users) those who consistently used the product developed oxidative stress, a condition whereby the body has difficulty fighting free radicals. Users also ended up with higher levels of adrenaline in the heart muscle. These two factors have both been linked to a heightened risk of heart attack. The former has been associated with heart disease and the latter can lead to rapid heartbeat and hypertension.
The implications of this study are potentially severe. Although, according to Dr. Holly Middlekauff, a co-author on the study, it is important not to conclude from this study that e-cigarettes directly cause heart disease. Rather, the study complicates claims by e-cigarette companies that their products are safer than traditional cigarettes.
Co-Author Ruminates on Implications
As Middlekauff put it, “[…] we found the same types of abnormalities in our e-cigarette users that are reported in tobacco cigarette users, and these abnormalities are associated with increased cardiac risk. The key finding from our study is that e-cigarettes have real, adverse physiologic effects that have been associated with heart disease.”
However, Middlekauff, a professor with the division of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, observed that “Most studies show that carcinogens are present at much lower levels in e-cigarettes compared to tobacco cigarettes.”
So why are traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes both linked to heart disease? Middlekauff speculated “that inhaled nicotine is the culprit.” She added, “"Nicotine is the most biologically active component in e-cigarette aerosol, and is an airway irritant. Nicotine increases adrenaline levels, and may activate a number of adverse systems that are harmful in the long run."
What’s more is that, according to a study carried out at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), pregnant mothers who use e-cigarettes may reduce lung functioning as well as increase the likelihood of allergic asthma for their child. Thus, lead researcher Dr. Pawan Sharma cautions pregnant mothers against using e-cigarettes, pointing out that e-cigarettes are not necessarily safer than combustible tobacco. This study supports the current policy in Australia – an all-out ban on e-cigarettes – and parallels another related study that found that nicotine in pregnant women has detrimental effects on the developing brain of a fetus.
Critics and Supporters
There are those who are skeptical of these kinds of studies. Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, had this to say, “This study, like so many performed by researchers looking to generate headlines, fails to compare the effects of vaping nicotine-containing liquid with other activities, such as smoking cigarettes, using non-nicotine liquid or drinking coffee."
But others applaud the work of e-cigarette researchers. Professor Joep Perk, a spokesperson for European Society of Cardiology cardiovascular prevention, went so far as to say that he would push for a public health policy that does not promote e-cigarettes as an alternative. He said, “If I was a minister of health I would put my efforts into public anti-smoking campaigns especially directed towards the younger generation, and not promote e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking."
Australia upheld a ban earlier this year. Conversely, Congress may soon consider legislation that would reverse an Obama-era rule that deems e-cigarettes to be tobacco products. Without such a rule, the $4.4 billion e-cigarette industry would be free of the regulations imposed on tobacco companies. We’ll have to wait and see if Congress approves of such a measure.