In the decade since they first went on sale, e-cigarettes have been touted as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. But, research on the health impacts of e-cigarette use, presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco this past Saturday, suggests that that reputation ought to be taken with a grain of salt — if not revised entirely.
A recently published study from UC San Francisco and George Washington University suggests that daily e-cigarette use may double the risk of heart attack. Conventional, combustible cigarette use was found to triple the risk.
"Dual use" — aka cutting back on conventional cigarette use while starting to use another tobacco product (like e-cigs or smokeless tobacco) — has become more prevalent. And it's not without consequences: According to this study, smokers who use both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes would see a five-fold increase in their risk of heart attack.
On the bright side, Dr. Glantz notes that the risk of heart attack appears to decrease immediately after quitting smoking. And former e-cigarette users' risk drops immediately after quitting, too.
This study was based on the National Health Interview Surveys from 2014 and 2016, which consisted of nearly 70,000 people, and, according to Dr. Glantz, is the first evidence of major, long-term health risks for e-cigarette users. That said, other recent studies have also pointed to the negative impact e-cigs can have.
A study involving mice, published last December, associates e-cigarette use with increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Another study, published last week, suggests that e-cigarettes may expose users to toxic metals. Research from the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering also found that, although e-cigarette companies market their products as quitting aids for current smokers, vapes' popularity among teens can act as a gateway to conventional cigarette use (meaning, younger folks are starting off smoking e-cigs and moving onto conventional ones). The same research suggests that teen users of e-cigarettes may see an increase in wheezing, coughing, and asthma symptoms.
In other words, there's a growing body of research that suggests e-cigs pose more risks than previously thought. "Most people think that they are harmless, which they are not," Dr. Glantz says.
Of course, more research needs to be done to understand the full impact these devices have on our health. But, for the time being, it seems safe to say that it's probably a bad idea to pick up e-cigarettes as a new habit, no matter how "trendy" they may be.