New research has indicated that there may be adverse health effects associated with the use of e-cigarettes. The devices have become wildly popular throughout the world in recent years, in part due to perceptions that they are relatively harmless, or that they help smokers to kick the habit. Globally, the market for e-cigs is set to be worth £25 billion ($33bn)worldwide in less than four years' time, and £4.45bn ($5.9bn) in the UK alone.
However, research by a team in Sweden has questioned the relative safety of e-cigarettes, with scientists arguing that those containing nicotine may increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Fifteen volunteers who'd never used e-cigarettes before took part in an experiment, with tests revealing an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and arterial stiffness 30 minutes after using them. The test results of those who'd used e-cigarettes without nicotine reported no such effects.
Dr Magnus Lundback of Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, a medical university in Stockholm, said: "The number of e-cigarette users has increased dramatically in the last few years. E-cigarettes are regarded by the general public as almost harmless. The industry markets their product as a way to reduce harm and to help people to stop smoking tobacco cigarettes. However, the safety of e-cigarettes is debated, and a growing body of evidence is suggesting several adverse health effects.
"The results are preliminary, but in this study we found there was a significant increase in heart rate and blood pressure in the volunteers who were exposed to e-cigarettes containing nicotine. Arterial stiffness increased around threefold in those who were exposed to nicotine-containing e-cigarettes compared with the nicotine-free group."
It was noted that the effects of the nicotine-based e-cigarettes were temporary, but the researchers weren't that through repeated use, it's possible they could become permanent.
None of the members of the 2016 experiment were heavy smokers (maximum 10 cigarettes per month) and none had used e-cigarette products before. The arterial stiffness (linked to strokes) found in those who had used nicotine e-cigarettes is also found in regular smokers, though Lundback warned of the dangers chronic use might bear, as well as the reality that cigarette companies have latched onto the perception of e-cigarettes as safer and are making the most of it.
He continued: "The marketing campaigns of the e-cigarette industry target current cigarette smokers and offer a product for smoking cessation. However, several studies question the e-cigarette as a means of smoking cessation, and there is a high risk of double use, where people use both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes.
"Furthermore, the e-cigarette industry also targets non-smokers, with designs and flavours that appeal to a large crowd, even the very young, and that carry the risk of a lifelong nicotine addiction. The e-cigarette industry is expanding on a global scale. Some calculations suggest that in the USA alone, the e-cigarette industry will surpass the conventional cigarette industry within the next few years."
Words: Ronan O'Shea
Featured Image Credit: PA