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Stanford Study Finds E-Cigarettes and Flavors Could Boost Risk of Heart Attacks and Disease

— May 29, 2019

The conclusions are tenuous, but Dr. David Wu says it should give e-cigarette aficionados reason to pause and ponder.

While e-cigarettes are often regarded as a substitute for traditional tobacco products, a new study suggests that vaping certain flavors could increase one’s risk of developing sudden or chronic heart problems.

According to the Associated Press, e-cigarettes were first marketed to long-time smokers hoping to kick the habit. Although the ill effects of vaping aren’t apparent in full, e-cigarettes lack many of the carcinogens present in treated tobacco.

But, writes the A.P., the dangers of smoking go beyond the obvious. Cigarettes have long been associated with lung cancer—however, they’re also a leading cause of heart attacks.

Researchers speculate that chemicals breathed in while vaping could pose ‘unique risks.’

In an effort to explore the potential dangers of e-cigarettes, the director of Stanford’s Cardiovascular Institute, Dr. Joseph Wu, started digging.

“It’s not possible for me to go into a patient and strip their artery and test it,” Wu said.

Instead, Wu and his team grew batches of cells that usually line human blood vessels. Placed inside laboratory dishes, the cells were exposed to six different e-cigarette flavorings. They also bathed the same cells in blood drawn from people who’d just vaped.

To control, Wu’s team gauged how the cells responded to blood taken from non-smokers as well as people who smoke regular cigarettes.

They published their findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on Monday, finding that vaping—and even some flavors by themselves—can cause blood vessel dysfunction and lend to a higher risk of heart disease compared with non-smokers.

Person holding an e-cigarette
Person holding an e-cigarette; image courtesy of lindsayfox via Pixabay,

The two most potent—and dangerous—flavors were cinnamon and menthol. But the other varieties tested still aggravated blood cells, causing inflammation and reducing the body’s natural ability to heal minor wounds.

In an editorial accompanying Wu’s article, Dr. Jane Freedman of the University of Massachusetts noted that a small-scale laboratory experiment can’t definitively prove that vaping is harmful.

However, Freedman said the findings “suggest that even without the smoke of combustible cigarette products, there may be a smoldering fire of adverse health effects.”

Wu’s conclusions coincide with those made by other researchers, who found that regular e-cigarette users had higher rates of heart attack and cardiovascular failure than the non-smoking public.

Now, says the Associated Press, Wu is planning further studies with stem cells, taken from healthy, adult volunteers, to see how vaping may effect heart and brain tissue.

But even though he’s treading new ground, Wu claims that Stanford’s experiment is evidence that vaping shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“This is really a warning shot that people should not be complacent and think that these e-cigarettes are completely safe,” Wu said.


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