Switching to Vaping May Be Better for the Hearts of Long-Term Smokers
Sun, April 18, 2021

Switching to Vaping May Be Better for the Hearts of Long-Term Smokers

Longtime smokers are likely to have better heart health if they switch to vaping, according to a new study / Photo by: prostooleh via 123RF

 

Longtime smokers are likely to have better heart health if they switch to vaping, according to a new study. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that using vape instead of tobacco cigarettes could improve blood vessel function in just a month.

It sought to determine the immediate effect of switching from cigarettes to vaping among chronic smokers. The results were prominent among women smokers, although researchers have yet to determine why. They also warn that their findings don't prove that vapes are safe.


Ditching Cigarettes

The study involved 144 smokers who were aged 18 years and up, smoked 15 cigarettes a day for two years, and had no diagnosis of any cardiovascular disease. One group of 40 people who were unwilling to quit tobacco smoking continued with their preference while those who did were randomly given an e-cigarette with nicotine (37 people) and a device without nicotine (37 people).

Using a test known as flow-mediated dilation (FMD), the researchers measured the changes in blood vessel function. FMD examines how far a blood vessel opens and measuring the shifts in their function indicates changes to cardiovascular health, New Scientist explains, noting the use of another test to measure the vessels' stiffness. 

New Scientist is a London-based weekly English-language magazine that covers all the latest aspects of science and technology.

Participants who switched to vaping after being long-time smokers were found to have increased their blood vessel function by around 1.5 percentage points in just four weeks than the group who didn't quit smoking. For chronic smokers who switched to vaping with nicotine, the New Scientist reports increasing their FMD by about a fifth from 5.5 percent to 6.7 percent.

The researchers said a healthy non-smoker has an average FMD score of 7.7 percent. This suggests that, in just a month, people who switched to vaping are about halfway to regain the FMD of a healthy non-smoker.

Moreover, the effect was especially evident among the female participants. The researchers don't understand exactly why, but they note that "female smokers face more health risks than male smokers do," which includes higher risks for lung cancer and heart attack.

Another study suggested that for every one percentage point improvement in vascular health, cardiovascular events occur 13 percent less in the long-term.

The study involved 144 smokers who were aged 18 years and up, smoked 15 cigarettes a day for two years, and had no diagnosis of any cardiovascular disease / Photo by: Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123RF

 

A Word of Caution

Rose Marie Robertson, deputy chief science and medical officer for the American Heart Association (AHA), said the blood vessels' ability to widen and increase blood flow when needed has been associated with long-term outcomes. However, she warned that data is not exclusive to e-cigarettes.

"We don't have data proving the long-term safety of vaping," Robertson, who was not part of the study, told CNN.

She added that while the study was well-executed, the results indicate important red flags. This includes the factors that remained unchanged among smokers who made the switch (eg inflammation indicators and platelet reactivity).

The study was only conducted at the University of Dundee in the UK, "where the levels of nicotine provided by e-cigarettes are substantially lower," Robertson said. She added that this makes it impossible to apply the results to the products sold in other countries.

"The big message ... is that quitting combustible cigarettes is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your health," the AHA executive said, adding that saying vaping is safer than tobacco cigarettes doesn't necessarily mean it's safe.

Results of the new study also contradict earlier studies suggesting could be more harmful to the heart compared to tobacco cigarettes. One of which is a study presented at an AHA scientific conference, which suggests e-cigarettes may cause an abnormality that disrupts blood flow regulation in the heart.

The publication of the study came at a bad time as the number of lung injury related to vaping continue to rise / Photo by: tibanna79 via 123RF


Vaping-Related Injuries

The publication of the study came at a bad time as the number of lung injury related to vaping continue to rise. As of writing, the CDC confirmed 2,172 cases of vaping-related lung injuries in the US, 200 health problems in the UK, and one confirmed case in the Philippines.

It also came as US federal health officials identify the substance likely to be liable for the ongoing outbreak; vitamin E acetate. This substance is sometimes used to dilute the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in vape cartridges, making vitamin E acetate deadly. The Dundee study did not specify whether the vapes used by the participants contained THC or used vitamin E acetate.

However, the researchers did note that while their results provide new evidence for the rapid improvement of blood vessel function when shifting to e-cigarettes, it merely indicates benefits "from a vascular perspective."

"E-cigarettes may be a less harmful alternative to tobacco, [but] there is no justification nor evidence from our work to state that e-cigarette is safe per se and therefore should never be viewed by nonsmokers as harmless devices to try," the researchers said.

They also noted that further research is needed to see the long-term effects of the devices on cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular health of chronic smokers.