Nicotine e-cigarettes linked to heart problems
11th September 2017 – E-cigarettes containing nicotine have been linked to increased blood pressure and heart rate in a small study presented at a medical conference.
A research team at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, says it has shown for the first time that using electronic cigarettes containing nicotine can lead to stiffening of the arteries - a condition that if sustained may be associated with a higher risk of heart problems in later life.
E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular since they first went on sale in the UK in 2007. Although their use has sparked controversy, they have been widely credited with helping thousands of people stop smoking tobacco.
A 2016 report by the Royal College of Physicians concluded that using e-cigarettes is much safer than smoking and smokers should be encouraged to use them. However, it did not rule out the possibility of some harm from long-term use because of ingredients other than nicotine that are inhaled.
The study presented this week at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Milan, Italy, looked at the physical effects of e-cigarette use on 15 young men and women. All the volunteers were occasional smokers, smoking no more than 10 cigarettes each per month. None of the participants had vaped before.
The volunteers were asked to use either an e-cigarette containing nicotine or an e-cigarette without nicotine for half-an-hour.
The researchers measured their blood pressure, heart rate and arterial stiffness immediately afterwards, and then 2 and 4 hours later.
Blood pressure, heart rate and arterial stiffness increased significantly during the first 30 minutes among the volunteers who had vaped with the e-cigarette containing nicotine. No such effect was seen in those who had used the nicotine-free e-cigarette.
The researchers say stiffening of the arteries is likely to be caused by nicotine and resembles the effect on blood vessels caused by long-term exposure to cigarette smoke.
The study results should be treated with caution as they have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
'No cause for alarm'
Professor Peter Hajek, director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London, says people who use e-cigarettes should not be alarmed by the findings. "This is a well-known stimulant effect of nicotine that has little relevance for health," he says in a statement. "Drinking coffee has the same effect, only greater and longer lasting (as does watching a dramatic football match)."
Dr Tim Chico, a consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, comments in a statement: "Electronic cigarettes are certain to have some health effects, and it is very important that non-smokers do not start using them erroneously thinking that they are harmless. However, the key question is whether they are as harmful as conventional cigarettes, and this seems very unlikely, particularly if they are used as a bridge to quitting all cigarettes completely.
"Although it is important to understand the effects of electronic cigarettes, this should not detract from the fact that smoking conventional cigarettes reduces life expectancy by 10 years and causes chronic diseases that devastate quality of life."