Electronic cigarettes, seen by many as a healthy alternative to tobacco smoking, do cause damage to the lungs, scientists from the University of Athens, Greece, explained at the European Respiratory Society’s Annual Congress 2012, Vienna, on Sunday. Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes have also been marketed as effective smoking cessation devices. Professor Christina Gratziou and team set out to determine what the short-term effects of smoking with e-cigarettes might be on different individuals, including those with no known health problems, as well as existing smokers with and without lung conditions.
They carried out experiments on 32 volunteers; of whom 8 were lifetime non-smokers and 24 were current regular smokers. Some of them had healthy lungs, while others lived with asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). They were asked to use an electronic cigarette for 10 minutes, inhaling the vapors into their lungs. A spirometry test, as well as some others diagnostic procedures were used to measure their airway resistance. Airway resistance is used in respiratory physiology to measure the resistance of the respiratory tract to airflow coming in during inspiration (inhalation) and going out during expiration (exhalation).
They found that using an e-cigarette caused an instant increase in airway resistance that lasted for 10 minutes in the majority of the participants. Below are some of their findings:
The electronic cigarette was introduced to the U.S. market in 2007 and offers the nicotine-addicted an alternative to smoking tobacco. Most “e-cigs” are similar enough in appearance to be mistaken for regular cigarettes, but one look inside and you’ll see the main difference: E-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco. Instead, there’s a mechanism that heats up liquid nicotine, which turns into a vapor that smokers inhale and exhale.
Manufacturers and satisfied customers say that this nicotine vapor offers many advantages over traditional cigarette smoke. But regulatory agencies and some health experts aren’t sure. They’re asking questions about the possible side effects of inhaling nicotine vapor, as well as other health risks e-cigarettes may pose — both to users and to the public. Those calling for tight regulations on e-cigarettes claim that these devices should be deemed illegal until the proper research trials have been conducted to prove that they’re safe.
Because they contain no tobacco, e-cigarettes aren’t subject to U.S. tobacco laws, which means they can be purchased without proof of age, especially online. This raises concerns that e-cigs may be particularly appealing to kids and may encourage nicotine addiction among young people. And while manufacturers of the e-cigarette claim that it’s the cigarette you can “smoke” anywhere, regulatory agencies around the world are taking a close look at these gadgets and instituting a range of restrictions on their use.
Proponents of the e-cigarette say they feel better using the device than they did when they were smoking tobacco cigarettes, and that because the e-cigarette is reusable, it saves them money. Some praise the e-cig for helping them quit smoking. But is the e-cigarette as safe as its users — including celebrities like Katherine Heigl — believe? Is it a healthier option, or a riskier choice? And what does the FDA have to do with it? Before you consider taking up the e-cigarette habit, read on to get the facts.
In the past decade, big tobacco has finally developed and marketed a cigarette* that does not cause cancer**. It’s the closest we’ve come to a cancer-free cigarette, which tobacco companies have been fantasizing about since the 1950s.
But there are a few catches. *First, they are arguably not even cigarettes, without the tobacco content or taste that the 1.1 billion global smokers enjoy. That’s the primary reason why e-cigarettes still represent only a tiny share of the market. **Second, while e-cigarettes probably won’t give you cancer, they may still contribute to heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and other ailments. Ultimately we know very little about the health effects — and given the history of cigarettes, that should worry you.
People smoke e-cigarettes to get a nicotine high, similar to the kind one gets with traditional cigarettes. While the nicotine in e-cigarettes comes from the tobacco plant, it is separated from tar and other plant material that cause cancer when smoked. Because there hasn’t been any research into the long-term effects of inhaling nicotine vapor from an e-cigarette, we can’t say for sure that they don’t cause cancer. What we can say is that the e-cigarettes are most likely healthier than tobacco cigarettes because they lack the 4,000 plus chemicals from the tobacco leaves.
E-cigarettes hold nicotine in liquid form, which gets heated into a vapor and released when a user sucks on the end.
That nicotine high
The stimulating effects of nicotine are immediate. It makes its way through the mucus membranes of your lungs and into your bloodstream, then into your brain. When it hits your brain, nicotine binds to brain cells that turn on the body’s “wake-up call” pathways. It also releases dopamine, our “feel good” brain chemical, and glutamate, which is involved in learning and memory, reinforcing this good feeling and making your memory of it stronger.
In about an hour, half of the nicotine from that smoke is already broken down and expelled from your body, leaving you craving more. Regular nicotine users develop a tolerance to the drug, making them use more and more, for example, moving from a cigarette a day to a few packs per week. The same thing can happen with inhaled nicotine.
It can still kill you
E-cigarettes may not cause cancer, but that doesn’t make them safe. Nicotine on its own is an extremely toxic poison similar to pesticides. When you take too much, you can get nicotine poisoning, which causes vomiting and nausea, and headaches.
Even in smaller doses it can be dangerous. When you take in nicotine, your body releases adrenaline — giving you a sudden rush of energy and increasing your heartbeat, blood pressure, and breathing. It also tells your body to pump your blood with sugars. Because of these effects, nicotine use is linked to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
A small study, presented at the European Respiratory Society’s annual meeting in February 2012 showed that e-cigarette smoking could have negative effects on people with coronary artery disease who have plaques in their arteries, because it lowers blood oxygen levels after 10 minutes of e-cigarette use. The researchers, from the University of Athens in Greece, suggested that people with these health issues should use other nicotine products to quit smoking.
LONDON, June 13 (Reuters) – Puffing on slim metal tubes loaded with pale yellow liquid, two London businessmen say they have between their lips a cure for what the U.N. calls “one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced”. Electronic cigarettes are the future, they argue. Cheaper, cleaner and cooler than smoking, “vaping” – using a vaporiser to inhale nicotine infused with exotic flavours ranging from pina colada to bubblegum – will spell the end of tobacco.
“After I first tried this, I left half a cigarette in the ashtray and never went back,” says Zoltan Kore, who co-runs the newly opened London e-cigarette shop “Smoke No Smoke”.
“I’m not a smoker now, I’m a vaper,” says business partner Gabor Kovacs. “The awful morning coughing fits have gone, and the waking up in the night struggling to breathe has gone, too.”
Such stories – and hopes of persuading the rest of the world’s billion smokers to stub out their tar and toxin-loaded cigarettes, cutting a catalogue of chronic disease risks as they do – are tantalising for public health experts.And since “vaping” doesn’t entail kicking the addiction – either to the stimulant nicotine or to the behavioural habits of smoking – some say it can help smokers quit much more effectively than nicotine gum or patches.
All the top tobacco companies are now placing bets on e-smokes, which some analysts predict may outsell conventional cigarettes in 10 years, raising the counter-intuitive prospect that Big Tobacco could actually help people quit smoking. Celebrities like Bruno Mars and Courtney Love are also endorsing them, a further inducement to makers of iconic cigarette brands like Marlboro and Camel to invest.
Yet e-cigarettes are far from universally accepted as a public health tool; regulators are agonising over whether to restrict them as “gateway” products to nicotine addiction and tobacco smoking, or embrace them as treatments for would-be quitters. A big issue is the lack of long-term scientific evidence to support the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes, prompting critics like the British Medical Association (BMA) to warn of the dangers of their unregulated use.
“These devices may also undermine efforts to prevent or stop smoking by making cigarette use seem normal in public and at work,” argues the BMA, which has called for vaping to be banned in public places in Britain, just as smoking is. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is equally wary, saying that until e-cigarettes have been endorsed as safe and effective by national regulators, “consumers should be strongly advised not to use any of these products”.
Supporters of e-cigarettes scoff at suggestions they are a hazard or could be a slippery slope for previously addiction-free young people to get hooked on nicotine. There is, they argue, no evidence of any harm from nicotine consumption and it would be crazy to impose tougher restrictions on e-smokes than on toxic “death sticks” that are freely available to buy on almost every street corner worldwide.
As Adrian Everett, chief executive of Britain’s leading e-cigarette company E-Lites put it in a comment to Reuters: “Comparing electronic cigarettes to tobacco is like comparing playing football to juggling live hand grenades.”
Scholars William Cooke and Donovan Fogt have received $30,000 in seed funding from UTSA to find out. The UTSA kinesiologists will team up with Assistant Professor Caroline Rickards at the University of North Texas Health Science Center to gather baseline data about the effects of e-cigarettes on the body’s basic physiological health.
For six years, e-cigarettes have been aggressively marketed as an alternative for smokers who want to decrease their risk of the serious health problems associated with conventional cigarette smoking. Instead of inhaling a cigarette’s nicotine and carbon monoxide, e-cigarette users inhale vaporized pure nicotine. But, very little research has been done about the effects of inhaling vaporized nicotine.
Over the next year, the researchers will study the effects that inhaling vaporized nicotine has on a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, resting metabolic rate, physical work capacity and brain blood flow. UTSA students pursing kinesiology and health-related careers will conduct research alongside the scholars, giving them the opportunity to learn quantitative research methods in preparation for their careers in academia and health-related professions.
The scholars will work under the hypothesis that vaporized nicotine stimulates the human nervous system in ways that could seriously impact daily living. They believe that the inhalation of vaporized nicotine has the potential to increase a person’s resting metabolism, making exercise problematic. They also believe it prevents the cardiovascular system from properly regulating arterial pressure and decreases the brain’s ability to regulate blood flow.
“E-cigarettes are perceived as safer than actual smoking, and some people even perceive them to be an attractive weight-loss tool,” said Fogt. “This study aims to quantify the metabolic consequences of inhaling vaporized nicotine.” Cooke added, “This study is an important first step to understanding the physiological complications and public health concerns surrounding the use of e-cigarettes. It will also give us a better understanding of the health effects of pure nicotine without the harmful poisons found in tobacco products on the autonomic nervous system.” If this study confirms the scholars’ hypotheses, additional research will be needed to further understand the immediate effects of vaporized nicotine, the impact of dosage and age on an e-cigarette user’s health and the long-term effects of e-cigarettes.”