American Heart Association Warns Vaping May Cause Heart, Lung Disease

A woman vaping while looking at a smart phone.
Vaping may contribute to serious heart and lung disease. Real People Group/Getty Images
  • The American Heart Association released a statement that warned of the health risks e-cigarettes may pose.
  • Many e-cigarette liquids contain nicotine, which has been linked with a number of negative health risks, including cancer.
  • E-cigarette liquids can also contain humectants such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerol (which produce the vapor), flavorings, and other chemicals that can pose negative health risks.

A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association published in the journal Circulation noted that growing evidence demonstrates the potential dangers of e-cigarette use (commonly referred to as vaping).

E-cigarettes, also known as e-cigs, are battery-operated devices that produce vapor, which is inhaled by the user.

Many e-cigarette liquids contain nicotine, which has been linked with a number of negative health risks, including cancer.

They may also contain humectants such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerol (which produce the vapor), flavorings, and other chemicals that can pose negative health risks.

What are the health dangers associated with e-cigarette use?

Experts say a growing amount of evidence suggests that there are numerous risks to vaping. 

“We saw in 2019 when E-cigarette or Vaping-Use Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) was identified in the US, that vaping products can cause very severe respiratory illness,” the volunteer chair of the scientific statement writing committee, Dr. Jason J. Rose, M.B.A., an associate professor of medicine and the associate dean of innovation and physician science development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, told Healthline. 

“Over 2800 were hospitalized and 68 people died. Some of the chemicals used to flavor vaping products have known toxic effects to people. Nicotine found commonly in most vaping liquids, has addictive properties and can have acute effects on the cardiovascular system,” said Rose. 

Using e-cigarettes may also lead some people to use other substances

“We see that people who vape are more likely to start using other tobacco products like combustible cigarettes, and vaping is correlated with other substance abuse. This is very concerning because more young people adopt vaping and many of them have never used other tobacco products,” Rose added.

Additionally, the ingredients of e-cigarettes may each independently pose dangerous health risks. 

“The biggest concern to me is nicotine which is found in many e-cigarettes,” said Rose. “We know that nicotine is addictive and has acute effects on the cardiovascular system. Also concerning is often times e-cigarettes and vaping liquids have higher concentrations of nicotine than cigarettes.”

Dr. Nima Majlesi, director of medical toxicology at Staten Island University Hospital agrees that vaping liquids that contain nicotine can pose many potential health risks.  

“Ingested unintentionally (especially children), can lead to seizures as well as profound muscle weakness leading to inability to breathe,” Majlesi stated. “Ingestion of liquids has been an issue due to lack of safe storage.” 

In addition, experimentation in youth has led to some problems as well.  

“One issue never to be thought to be an issue with nicotine in the past was cancer,” said Majlesi. “However, some recent data is showing that the heating of nicotine can lead to the creation of carcinogens and increase the risk of cancer.” 

The difference in risk of cancer associated with vaping compared to cigarettes is unclear.  However, the risk does appear to exist, Majlesi added.

Flavored vaping products also present health risks

“Some of the chemicals that are used as flavoring agents have known negative health effects,” Rose stated. “For example, diacetyl, which produces a buttery flavor, was connected with a condition known as bronchiolitis obliterans.”

It’s also important to note that non-branded forms of vaping liquids have been associated with health issues in the past. 

“EVALI, also known as e-cigarette- or vaping-use-associated lung injury (EVALI), is a serious inflammatory condition that damages your lungs,” said Majlesi. “The substance in question is still unclear though tocopherol (vitamin E) inhalation was thought to be responsible in many of the cases.  Most of these cases were in the vaping of THC rather than nicotine.”

“The EVALI epidemic was connected with an adulterant agent, vitamin E acetate, that made vaping liquids appear more concentrated,” he explained.

Why animal studies may help us understand the long-term effects of e-cigarette use

“We really need to be enhancing our knowledge on the health risks of these products, especially with the rapid adoption by young people,” said Rose. “We won’t have population data on the long-term risks for many years because e-cigarettes and vaping products have only been in the US market for 15 years.” 

Since it will take years to see the true health impact, conducting more animal studies may help predict more of the risks.

“If you look at combustible cigarettes, which became widely available around 1900, initial findings that lung cancer rates were going up were not seen until the 1930s,” Rose explained. “We cannot wait decades to find these risks out. We made a general recommendation to enhance animal models to predict long-term effects, study the impact of vaping on patients with chronic disease, and utilize molecular studies to understand the effects on human health.”

The bottom line

E-cigarettes may pose several health risks, according to a statement released by the  American Heart Association.

Many e-cigarette liquids contain nicotine, which has been linked with a number of negative health risks, including cancer.

Experts recommend avoiding e-cigarettes due to the potentially harmful long-term health issues.

They may also contain humectants such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerol (which produce the vapor), flavorings, and other chemicals that can pose negative health risks.

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