Electronic cigarettes have gained immense popularity as an alternative to smoking tobacco. After exhaustive investigation, Public Health England have even stated that e-cigarettes are at least 95% safer than smoking tobacco. For example, they do not expose users to the 4,700 plus chemicals that are found in cigarette smoke, of which at least 60 are known to cause cancer. Although they remain controversial, e-cigarettes are considered a safer option to deliver nicotine than inhaling burning tobacco. Unfortunately, a recent study has cast doubt on the safety of e-cigarettes when it comes to heart disease risk .
E-cigarettes raise blood pressure
The new study was small and only included 15 young, fit, university students who smoked traditional cigarettes. On each of three test days, each volunteer smoked a cigarette and inhaled into their lungs, or vaped an e-cigarete with nicotine, or vaped an e-cigarette without nicotine (control), so that each person trialled each method. They indulged in a minimum of one puff every 30 seconds, for 10 puffs during each session, and every puff had to last for 4 seconds.
On the test days, their blood pressure and arterial stiffness were measured regularly, starting at least half an hour before vaping or smoking, and continuing for at least 2 hours afterwards.
As there are nicotine receptors in the circulation, it’s not a total surprise that blood pressure and heart rate both increased dramatically within 20 minutes of starting smoking the cigarette (from around 123/73 mmHg to 132/76 mmHg) or vaping the e-cigarette with nicotine. What was a surprise was that their blood pressure readings went even higher with the e-cigarette (from 123/73 mmHg to 135/79 mmHg) and stayed higher for longer – for approximately 45 minutes after vaping a nicotine-containing liquid compared with around 15 minutes after smoking a conventional cigarette.
E-cigarettes increase arterial stiffness
The recorded increases in heart rate were also significantly greater with the e-cigarette than with the traditional smoke, and also lasted for longer (45 minutes versus 30 minutes). At the same, acute increases in arterial stiffness were recorded, and these were also greater with the nicotine-containing e-cigarettes than with the traditional cigarette.
All these findings suggest that e-cigarettes may be associated with an increased long-term risk of cardiovascular disease. Coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke are all triggered by stiffening of the arteries so, while small, this study suggests you should not rely on using e-cigarettes as a safer long-term alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes if you already have high blood pressure and arterial stiffening.
Instead, use e-cigarettes to wean yourself off smoking all together. Just have one or two puffs of the e-cigarette when you crave nicotine, however. Don’t continue to inhale, as in this study, or you may not be doing your heart or your blood pressure any favours.
E-cigarettes can help you quit
E-cigarettes are a popular choice for those who want to quit smoking and can help you cut back. One study followed the smoking habits of 40 committed, heavy smokers who were unwilling to quit. After 24 weeks of agreeing to trial e-cigarettes, their average (median) cigarette usage reduced by 80% from 25 down to 5 normal cigarettes per day. This occurred despite no encouragement, motivation or rewards to quit. The researchers suggested that electronic cigarettes provide a coping mechanism for conditioned smoking cues by replacing some of the rituals of smoking such as the hand-to-mouth habit that many smokers find difficult to go without when giving up smoking.
A gold-standard Cochrane review of 29 clinical trials found that people who use electronic cigarettes containing nicotine were more than twice as likely to abstain from smoking for at least six months than those using a placebo.
In fact, e-cigarettes were at least as effective as using a nicotine patch. For those cutting back, people using an electronic cigarette were 30% more likely to reduce their cigarette consumption by at least half compared with those using a placebo and 41% more likely to cut back by half than those using a patch.
Smoking causes high blood pressure and continuing to smoke is not a sensible option, whether or not you already have hypertension. People who continue to smoke tobacco regularly have a one in two chance of dying at least 10 years earlier than they should as a direct result of smoking. E-cigarettes can help you to cut back and quit, but do not use them like normal cigarettes. When withdrawal cravings kick in, only have one or two puffs to obtain your nicotine replacement rather than smoking the equivalent of a whole cigarette.