Science

Vaping may not be as harmless as it seems

By Rachael Hutchings

In today’s society, it is near impossible to be unaware of the ill-effect smoking has on the human body. Yet, because e-cigarettes have only been available for roughly 15 years, there hasn’t been a demonstration of information regarding any long-term risks.

That said, statistics from short-term analysis already point to the risks that vaping poses to the lungs and DNA. A study carried out on mice by Mark Olfert, a physiologist at West Virginia University, shows that even the briefest exposure to e-cigarette vapours can damage blood vessels.

Olfert and his team placed mice into a chamber which was filled with e-cigarette vapour for four hours on a daily basis and continued this for eight months. The level of exposure provided to the mice was no higher than that experienced by the average person who vapes, Olfert reports. With mice living for between two and three years, this means that the eight months of e-cigarette exposure was equal to twenty years of vaping by a human.

The effects seen in the mice after this time period could straightforwardly be described as prominent, and moreover, concerning. A simple five minutes of vaping damaged their blood vessels, and it is precisely these types of injury which are likely to intensify the risk of developing heart disease. Heart disease is, globally, the largest killer of older adults and made up for 32.1% of all deaths in 2015.

Arteries carry blood from the heart to the blood vessels, which are responsible for feeding cells in all of the body’s tissue. Olfert and his team of researchers measured the stiffness of a primary artery which runs from the heart into the lower chest. The experiment revealed that the mice exposed to the e-cigarette vapours had arteries that were 2.5 times stiffer than what is considered normal and healthy, and stiff blood vessels are another symptom that has direct links to life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease.

When the muscles in the walls of an artery are stimulated, they contract, which provisionally lessens the size of the tube’s centre, thus raising an individual’s blood pressure. With these dangerous symptoms considered, it is imperative that blood vessels don’t remain contracted in this way for an extended period of time.

Olfert is quick to point out that ‘mice are different from people’. Although there are many variances in the composition in the bodies of each, there is evidence that smoking has similar effects in mice and people, and that is the main reason why Olfert and his team expect their data on the vaping rodents to possibly predict the impacts the habit also has on the human heart.

While it would be agreeable to have data from actual humans available for comparison, by the very nature of smoking and how the extent of its effects will not be visible instantly, it could take up to between 20 or 30 more years before any figures would be available regarding the long-term effects of vaping.

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