Even nicotine-free e-cigarettes are not safe, a new study suggests.
Vaping heated, flavored liquid still damages the blood vessels when nicotine is absent, according to a new University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study.
Researchers there found heat morphs the chemicals in e-liquids into toxic particles that distress and damage the blood vessels.
Their findings come amid an alarming slew of lung disease cases among patients who have one thing in common: vaping, whether it be using e-cigarettes infused with nicotine, cannabis or something else.
MONQ e-cigarettes sold at stores like Urban Outfitters contain no nicotine – but heating other chemicals in the flavored e-liquids still damages blood vessels, a new study found
Initially billed as a quit-aid and safer alternative to smoking combustible cigarettes, e-cigs have quickly become one US public health officials’ greatest concerns.
Smoking is dangerous in part because it involves burning plant matter, particles from which lodge themselves in the lungs and put stress on the cardiovascular system, and because cigarettes contain harmful substances like tar.
E-cigs have been around for about a decade, which makes them a relatively new research subject.
They may lack tar and some of the definitively carcinogenic chemicals in traditional cigarettes, but the more they’re studied, the more clear it becomes that even if the devices are ‘safer’ they are certainly not safe.
Previous studies have found that popular nicotine e-cigs – like the trendy Juul that so many American teenagers have become addicted to – have effectively the same same impact on the cardiovascular system that combustible cigarettes do.
How exactly they do this damage is less well understood, but some scientist suspected that the stimulant effects of nicotine were to blame.
But the new U Penn study, published in the journal Radiology, suggests otherwise.
To test the effects of nicotine-free vaping on blood vessels, the researchers took MRIs of 31 volunteers who use these types of e-cigs – but don’t smoke – before and after vaping.
Just a single session of vaping – comprised of 16 three-second puffs – seemed to have immediate and serious effects.
The MRI revealed that about 17.5 percent less blood was flowing through the large femoral artery that runs through the thigh and leg.
An average of 20 percent less oxygen was present and flowing through the participants veins, and their blood vessels were about 34 percent less dilated – meaning less blood could flow through the narrowed passageways.
More narrow blood vessels mean that less blood is reaching various body parts, and that means they’re getting less oxygen, too.
And if oxygen is cut off entirely, a person may suffer a stroke, which is particularly devastating if it occurs in the brain.
This kind of oxygen deprivation can also trigger a heart attack.
‘E-cigarettes are advertised as not harmful, and many e-cigarette users are convinced that they are just inhaling water vapor,’ said lead study author, Dr Alessandra Caporale.
‘But the solvents, flavorings and additives in the liquid base, after vaporization, expose users to multiple insults to the respiratory tract and blood vessels.’
She and her team identified two primary substances that wreak havoc on the lining of blood vessels – called the endothelium – causing it to thicken and constrict the interior of the vessels.
‘While e-cigarette liquid may be relatively harmless, the vaporization process can transform the molecules – primarily propylene glycol and glycerol – into toxic substances,’ said the study’s principal investigator Dr Felix Wehrli, PhD.
‘I would warn young people to not even get started using e-cigarettes. The common belief is that the nicotine is what is toxic, but we have found that dangers exist, independent of nicotine.
‘Clearly if there is an effect after a single use of an e-cigarette, then you can imagine what kind of permanent damage could be caused after vaping regularly over years.’