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E-cigarettes increase heart disease risk

External triggers such as nicotine interfere with the “on” and “off” switch of hormones. PHOTO | AFP
External triggers such as nicotine interfere with the “on” and “off” switch of hormones. PHOTO | AFP 

Electronic cigarettes increase the risk of heart disease and death.

In a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), researchers found that nicotine in the e-cigarettes raise levels of adrenaline hormone in the heart thus making users vulnerable to cardiovascular disease.

Dr Holly Middlekauff, senior author of the study from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), noted that the research findings should discourage non-smokers from taking up e-cigarettes which are often marketed as safer alternatives to physical cigarettes that emit cancer causing chemicals (carcinogens) in their smoke.

Cigarettes are popular as they contain nicotine which is a highly addictive substance that travels fast to the brain and can cause a feeling of temporary relaxation and stress relief when inhaled.

In physical cigarettes, nicotine is produced through the burning of tobacco which aside from emitting nicotine also releases huge amounts of tar and carbon monoxide that are linked to lung, oesophageal and mouth cancers.

But e-cigarettes are considered “friendly” since no tobacco or burning is required. They contain cartridges filled with liquids containing nicotine, flavourings and other chemicals. A heating device converts the liquid into a vapour that people inhale.

Irrespective of them being devoid of tar and carbon monoxide, results of the study showed that nicotine in e-cigarettes is still harmful and should thus be avoided.

“The findings challenge the concept that inhaled nicotine is benign or safe,” said Dr Middlekauff. The body produces adrenaline naturally to prepare people for a “fight” or “flight” response in times of stress.

Upon encountering a snake for instance, the adrenaline prepares someone to flee by increasing the heart rate so as to make the organ work harder than it normally does. This makes a person under threat to run faster than they normally would.

However, the “super power” effect of the hormone is designed to work temporarily. So once the person is back to safety – far away from the snake – the heart beat goes back to normal.

But external triggers such as nicotine interfere with the “on” and “off” switch of the hormone by keeping it active at all times when nicotine is consumed. This causes adverse health effects.

The research found that just one e-cigarette with nicotine leads to adrenaline changes in the heart of non-smokers thus leading them down the heart disease trail.

This was the first study that attempted to look at the impact of e-cigarettes on the heart by separating nicotine from their non-nicotine components (flavourings and other chemicals).

Joel Gitari, chairperson of the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance, told the Business Daily that tobacco use has decreased since 2007 when Kenya passed the Tobacco Control Act which among other things put a ban on advertising and promotion of tobacco products.

But as the market shrinks, he noted that the tobacco industry has been looking for ways to lure Kenyans back to smoking by introducing new products like Shisha and e-cigarettes.

“They may say that the latter is safer since it has no tobacco. But it causes nicotine addiction which eventually leads to smoking,” he said.

“We have seen people start with e-cigarettes which are more expensive so as to keep out of trouble. But when they run out of money and can no longer afford them, they shift to smoking tobacco products that are low cost sources of nicotine to sustain their addiction.”

Mr Gitari said that because nicotine is highly addictive, the best way to avoid being “hooked” is to never start smoking or using e-cigarettes in the first place.

Aside from heart disease, long-term use of nicotine also leads to blood clots and stomach ulcers.

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