Vaping has similar impact on heart as cigarettes, study warns

Nicotine use triggers similar heart response to brain's 'fight or flight' mechanism

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Vaping has a similar impact on cardiac health as regular cigarette smoking, a new study supported by the American Health Association has found.

The research showed that shortly after vaping, users had elevated blood pressure and heart rate in a similar way to the body’s response to a ‘fight or flight’ situation that's triggered by the brain’s sympathetic nervous system.

The three-year study at the University of Wisconsin evaluated the physiological response in 395 people, 164 of who vaped for an average of 4.1 years compared with 117 people who smoked for around 23 years and 114 who had not used any nicotine products.

Scientists found the negative impact on cardiovascular function was similar in young vapers as in older smokers who had used traditional cigarettes for two decades longer.

These findings are concerning because they indicate vaping may increase cardiovascular risk
Robert Turrell, University of Wisconsin

“Immediately after vaping or smoking, there were worrisome changes in blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability and blood vessel tone (constriction),” said lead study author Matthew Tattersall, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“These findings suggest worse cardiovascular disease risk factors right after vaping or smoking, and activation of the sympathetic nervous system may play a role in the adverse responses seen immediately after using e-cigarettes and after exercise testing 90 minutes later.”

The average age of smokers in the study was 42, whereas vapers were aged 27, on average.

According to the 2022 Middle East Tobacco Atlas, smoking rates in the UAE are around 14 per cent for men and two per cent for women.

In July, a UAE study found a quarter of university students had tried an e-cigarette.

The Wisconsin study assessed blood pressure, heart rate and the diameter of the brachial artery in the arm of each group before and after they smoked or vaped.

People who vaped and those who smoked combustible cigarettes had greater increases in heart rate and blood pressure immediately after using a cigarette or vape.

Those using nicotine also experienced greater constriction of the brachial artery and had worse measures of heart rate variability, indicating the activation of the body’s sympathetic nervous system — the fight-or-flight response that becomes more active when a person is stressed or in danger.

The response increases heart rate and blood pressure, and creates a greater need for oxygen by the heart and dysfunction in artery walls.

Treadmill stress tests were also performed, 90 minutes after participants had either vaped or smoked and 90 minutes after those who reported no nicotine use had rested.

People who vaped and those who smoked cigarettes performed significantly worse on all four exercise parameters tested, compared to the group who reported no nicotine use.

The exercise ability and fitness level of each study subject were measured, while each was tested for 60 seconds post-exercise to understand how quickly they recovered.

Compared with those who did not take any nicotine, smokers and vapers achieved a lower cardiac workload, slower recovery and less exercise ability.

“We did not study the long-term effects of vaping, use of vaping as a smoking cessation aid or the effectiveness or safety of vaping in that context,” said Robert Turrell Professor in Cardiovascular Research at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

“However, these findings are concerning because they indicate vaping may increase cardiovascular risk.

“The message for people who smoke combustible cigarettes is the same as always – try to quit using tobacco and nicotine products and seek support from your physician and community to increase your chances of success.”

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Updated: November 02, 2022, 2:21 AM