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Electronic cigarettes 'don’t harm the heart'

29th August 2012 -- Electronic cigarettes do not appear to be bad for your heart, according to the first study to look at the effects of smoking e-cigarettes on heart function.

The battery powered devices simulate the effect of smoking by heating nicotine-containing liquid into vapour.

They can be helpful to smokers trying to kick the habit, says researcher Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens, Greece.

"Considering the hazards associated with cigarette smoking, currently available data suggest that electronic cigarettes are far less harmful, and substituting tobacco with electronic cigarettes may be beneficial to health," he says.

Speaking here at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology, Dr Farsalinos acknowledges that the study was short and small, only 22 people were studied immediately before and after using the devices.

Another small study shows that e-cigarettes may have short-term harmful effects on lung function, he says.

Many more people have to be studied for much longer before any firm conclusions can be made about the safety of electronic cigarettes, Dr Farsalinos says.

E-cigarettes satisfy both sides of addiction: the chemical craving for nicotine and "the psychological addiction that comes from having something in your hand, lighting it, and inhaling and exhaling it," he says. "Preliminary studies show this [two-pronged attack] helps people to quit."

Electronic cigarettes

Invented by a Chinese pharmacist in 2003, electronic cigarettes are now used by millions worldwide as an alternative to smoking. The devices are not regulated in the UK and the World Health Organisation has called for studies on their effects on human health.

In the new study, the researchers compared the heart function of 20 daily smokers before and after smoking one tobacco cigarette to that of 22 e-cigarette users before and after using the device for seven minutes. The people studied were healthy and varied in age from 25 to 45.

Heart function got worse in the tobacco smokers and their blood pressure and heart rate rose. People using e-cigarettes experienced only a slight elevation in blood pressure.

The e-cigarettes used in the study contained 11 milligrams per millilitre of nicotine in the liquid. That’s a "moderate" amount, according to Dr Farsalinos, who says they can contain up to 23 milligrams per millilitre of nicotine.

Many laboratory analyses have shown electronic cigarettes do not contain carcinogens, he says. However, even in studies where formaldehyde and other carcinogens were found, the levels detected were 500 to 1,400 times less than the amount present in one tobacco cigarette, Dr Farsalinos says.

"You would have to use e-smokes for six to eight months to get the amount of chemical present in a single tobacco cigarette," he says.

Reaction

The study has been welcomed by Amanda Sandford, research manager at Action on Smoking and Health. She tells us by email: “The results of this study are encouraging since smoking is a major cause of heart disease.  Around one in five premature deaths from heart disease are linked to smoking and this toll could be substantially reduced if smokers switched to using less hazardous nicotine products.

"Clearly more research is needed but these initial findings suggest that e-cigarettes are likely to be a much safer option for smokers who find it difficult to quit their nicotine addiction."

Currently, e-cigarettes are subject to general consumer protection Laws and are not regulated as medical devices. The regulator MHRA is carrying out studies on the impact of regulation on public health and business and will make a decision on whether e-cigarettes and related products will be regulated in spring 2013.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinise the data prior to publication in a medical journal.