Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are thought to be a healthier alternative to the traditional tobacco cigarettes, but recent evidence shows otherwise.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, puffing an e-cigarette that delivers nicotine not only triggers addiction but can also lead to an increased risk in cardiac arrest and possibly cardiac death.
Nicotine is a toxic chemical found in tobacco that induces the sense of pleasure and excitement once it enters the body. Ten seconds is all it takes for the nicotine to reach the brain and instruct it to release adrenaline.
Adrenaline is an important hormone that controls the heart rate and blood pressure in states of strong emotion.
When adrenaline is released, the addictive “buzz” is created, and this addictive “buzz” is what causes people to light up cigarette after cigarette.
On a similar note, adrenaline, when released, also causes the heart to beat faster in order to provide more energy.
Nicotine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system — also known as the fight-or-flight response system — and in doing so, blood pressure rises and heart rate increases.
Recurring exposure to nicotine leads to a prolonged state of an increased heart rate that, in the long run, can lead to an abnormal heart rate variability (HRV), which is the time interval between heart beats.
This is detrimental because stress put on the heart increases the risk of experiencing a heart attack or a stroke.
To test this theory, Holly Middlekauff and her research team at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles conducted an experiment on 33 healthy non-vapers and non-smokers.
These participants came into the lab on three different days and were asked to puff an e-cigarette with nicotine on one day, a nicotine-free e-cigarette on another and an empty e-cigarette on the last day.
Each trial consisted of 60 puffs in 30 minutes with an observation period of four weeks between each trial.
Results indicated that there was a 10 percent increase in heart rate in the participants who puffed on a nicotine-delivering e-cigarette.
The HRV of a person who uses an e-cigarette closely resembled the HRV pattern found in someone who has experienced cardiac arrest.
“Only after using the e-cigarette with nicotine did we see this [abnormal heart rate variability] pattern associated with high adrenaline levels in the heart,” Middlekauff said, according to ScienceDaily. “There’s now evidence that e-cigarettes could pose a health risk to people who have never smoked tobacco because of the nicotine they contain.”
Middlekauff also believes smoking e-cigarettes should be assessed based on user. Despite its adverse effects on the heart, the e-cigarette is better than smoking tobacco cigarettes because it contains fewer carcinogens.
However this applies to people who smoke regularly. For non-smokers it’s a different story.
“The way I think about it is that if you currently smoke tobacco cigarettes, switching to e-cigs may be a better choice, at least from the data we have,” Middlekauff said in a press release. “But, if you don’t smoke at all, I would strongly advise that you not start using e-cigarettes, because they are not harmless.”