Smokers sometimes turn to e-cigarettes to try to quit smoking. But according to new research from Boston University School of Medicine, they may be trading one health harm for another.
The study looked at the effects of nine flavorings common in e-cigarettes and other tobacco products on a type of cell that lines the walls of blood vessels, including the ones in the heart.
When five of the flavorings—menthol, acetylpyridine (a burnt flavor), vanilla, cinnamon, and clove—were added to these cells in the lab, they blocked the cells’ ability to produce a heart-healthy gas called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide reduces inflammation, prevents dangerous blood clots from forming, and helps blood vessels open up more to improve blood flow. Drops in this gas may damage blood vessels and lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Other research has also questioned the safety of e-cigarette flavorings. In a study presented at the American Thoracic Society’s annual meeting this year, cinnamon hurt the lung’s ability to protect against infections.
The study is not absolute proof that flavored e-cigarettes cause damage to the heart system. But it suggests that vaping may not be a harmless way to stop smoking. The study authors noted that more research on the effects of tobacco flavorings is needed to understand their effects on the heart and lungs.
In the meantime, if you are concerned about the effects of e-cigarettes or other flavored tobacco products, consider special testing. Cleveland HeartLab/Quest Diagnostics offers a simple blood test of a substance that indicates low levels of nitric oxide and possible damage to the cells lining your blood vessels.
Of course, quitting smoking is always a wise move. The chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk that cholesterol will enter the walls of the blood vessels and that the waxy substance called plaque will build up and become inflamed. This may in turn clog your arteries, stopping the flow of blood to your organs and other parts of your body. This process is called atherosclerosis and is a leading cause of heart attacks and stroke.
To kick the habit, try this game plan:
- Get ready. Ask yourself why you want to quit and make a plan to help you do so. Think about your smoking triggers and how to avoid them once you decide to quit smoking. And, quitting smoking can be easier if you take a week away from stressful environments, e.g., work deadlines, avoiding alcohol and limiting contact with friends that smoke for the week.
- Set the date and seek support. Decide on a day and let others know your plan. Ask them for help in quitting. A hotline or website can be one source of support.
- Ask about products and medicines. Many people find nicotine patches, lozenges, and gum helpful. There are also prescription medicines your doctor can prescribe.
- Try new activities to replace smoking. You might be used to lighting up after a meal, for instance. Try going for a walk instead, or take up a new hobby to keep your hands busy.
- Expect withdrawal symptoms—and relapse. The strongest symptoms will lessen after a week or two, so hang in there. And don’t despair if you relapse. Many people finally kick the smoking habit after one or more previous attempts. You’ve got this!