The Emerging Dangers of Vaping
A new study finds that e-cigarettes — even without nicotine — may damage your blood vessels
Days after dozens of people were hospitalized for mysterious and severe respiratory problems after using e-cigarettes, a new study reveals that a single session of vaping, even without nicotine, has immediate and significant negative effects on blood flow. The finding is not tied to the recent hospitalizations. But this study, along with other research uncovering cancer-causing chemicals and harmful substances in the vapor inhaled from e-cigarettes, suggests that vaping is not as safe as many believe it to be.
In the new study from University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, 31 men and women with an average age of 24 took 16 three-second puffs of vapor from a nicotine-free e-cigarette. Before and after the vape session, each person’s femoral artery was compressed in the upper leg for a few minutes, then released, while an MRI machine monitored the artery. The constriction was similar to the cuffing of a blood-pressure test: When the cuff relaxes, the artery expands and — if the vascular system is healthy — blood surges to replace oxygen and nutrients that a limb has been denied.
The study found that after vaping, the femoral arteries expanded 34% less on average, due to reduced blood flow. The effects, which suggest damage to the endothelium, the inner lining of the blood vessels, lasted about an hour, says study leader Felix Wehrli, a professor of radiologic science and biophysics.
While the study is small, the effect is large and “highly statistically significant,” Wehrli says. And since the people in the study had never smoked or vaped before, the results are not clouded by variations caused by previous inhaling, he says. Plus, each person was his or her own control in the before-and-after test approach. “We know for sure the change was caused by vaping.”
“Beyond the harmful effects of nicotine, we’ve shown that vaping has a sudden, immediate effect on the body’s vascular function, and could potentially lead to long-term harmful consequences.”