Scientists have been sprinting to determine the short and long term effects of vaping and e-cigarette use at the rate that these products are being adopted among teens and young adults. According to a study from the Boston University School of Medicine published Thursday, the early results are not promising: the flavorings in vape juice may induce the earliest signs of cardiovascular disease—which can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or even death— and it's evident on a cellular level, almost immediately.
In the study, when cells were exposed to (un-heated) vape juice for just ninety minutes, they started to act differently. The researchers found the chemicals in vape juice hurt the production of nitric oxide in cells, which is what tells blood vessel cells to open up. When blood vessels can’t open up, the heart can’t pump blood properly. This is the same effect shown in cells from smokers of actual cigarettes.
“The measures that we looked at for our study are some of the very first changes that we see in the development of heart disease,” Jessica Fetterman, the lead author on the study, said in a phone call with The Outline. “We’re looking really early on in the disease.
“The implications are big for these products like e-cigarettes which may not have nicotine,” she said. “Our study suggests that there may be some toxicity in the flavoring itself.”
Unfortunately, this means that vapers can’t save themselves from these cardiovascular risks just by choosing a particular vape juice flavor. All flavors damaged blood vessel cells at the same high exposure level, though strawberry managed to be particularly damaging even at a lower level.
The explosion of vaping and e-cigarettes happened seemingly overnight. However, this quick adoption (partially brought on by insidious marketing by Big Tobacco) makes it difficult to get a firm, clear grasp on the long term effects of these products in a timely manner. Understanding long-term effects on a deep level takes, well, a long time.
“The things that we really need to do in order to understand the long term effects are, for example, looking at people who use these products for long period of time and looking to see whether they develop heart disease or not,” Fetterman said. “That would be the ideal study, but that’s gonna take a really long time to know. That was why we designed this study to look at the early effects.”