Everyone knows that tobacco smoke is bad for you; especially for your lungs. The fact that smokers easily run out of breath is one clue, and the hacking cough is another. But tobacco smoke affects other bodily organs too, in subtle yet dangerous ways that we often don’t notice until it’s far too late. Did you know that smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack as non-smokers? The negative effects of smoking on the heart have been well documented, but e-cigarettes may offer some hope.
New research suggests that smokers who switch to vaping can improve their cardiovascular health. By studying nearly two-hundred smokers who switched to e-cigs, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, researcher at Onassis Cardiac Surgery in Athens-Greece, found that smokers who fully or partially switched to vaping saw their blood pressure drop from dangerously high, to safer levels over the course of a year. Both the smokers who quit entirely and those that reduced their smoking saw their blood pressure improve, and the effect was particularly strong in those who had high blood pressure at the beginning of the study.
Why Scientists Think E-Cigs are Better
While it’s great to have a study that proves it, it’s not actually all that surprising to learn that swapping from traditional cigarettes to e-cigs is good for your heart. This is because unlike combustible cigarette smoke, e-cigarette vapor does not contain carbon monoxide — a poisonous chemical that is known as “the silent killer” because it is both deadly and extremely difficult to detect.
Carbon monoxide poisons smokers by binding with the hemoglobin in their blood to form carboxyhemoglobin. Hemoglobin is vital because it transports oxygen around the body. Carboxyhemoglobin, on the other hand, doesn’t carry oxygen around in the blood, effectively reducing the oxygen-carrying capacity of a smoker’s bloodstream. This is why the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include lightheadedness, confusion and vertigo.
Not only does carbon monoxide deprive your blood of oxygen, but recent scientific research suggests that it can cause lasting heart damage by attacking the heart muscle directly. To compensate for the under oxygenated blood, the heart also has to work harder, which may be why smokers have a higher resting heart rate than non-smokers. Statistically speaking, smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack when compared with nonsmokers, are 50% more likely to suffer a stroke and are 24% more likely to experience other kinds of heart disease.
E-Cigarettes Especially Beneficial to Smokers with
High Blood Pressure
By switching from smoking to vaping, smokers can also improve their heart health by lowering their blood pressure. High blood pressure, another “silent killer”, occurs when pressure in the blood vessels is too high, putting significant stress on the arteries and heart. Smoking has not been proven to cause long-term high blood pressure, but smoking is an aggravating factor in those that have high blood pressure. If left untreated, high blood pressure can cause:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease
- Vision loss
- Erectile dysfunction
- Peripheral artery disease
In the study conducted by Dr. Farsalinos, smokers with high blood pressure who completely switched to vaping were able to reduce their systolic blood pressure by 16.3 mm Hg. Those who reduced their cigarette intake by dual using cigarettes and e-cigs lowered their blood pressure by an average of 10.8 mm Hg.
Takeaways from Dr. Farsalinos’ Research
Interestingly, both the smokers that switched to vaping and those that quit completely saw similar improvements to their heart health. Nicotine is considered a risk factor for heart health because it makes the heart beat faster (and therefore work harder), but in the research both those who abstained completely and those who switched to e-cigarettes saw a similar drop in their blood pressure.
We’ve often seen ‘dual-use’ (both smoking and vaping) come under heavy fire from vaping critics. But this study shows that even dual users see substantial health improvements and that dual-use may simply be a part of a gradual quitting process for some smokers. It’s important to remember that there is a clear dose-response relationship at work in smokers — in other words, the more smokers smoke, the higher their chance of contracting a smoking-related illness.
It’s important to remember that there is no “low limit” for tobacco smoking — those that smoke very lightly may be at reduced risk when compared to heavy smokers, but they’re still at more risk than non-smokers or vapers.
This study also contradicts previous assumptions that vaping is just as bad for your heart as smoking. The evidence clearly shows that vapers can improve their heart health, validating that the British Government’s decision to make e-cigarettes available on their National Health Service. It’s a fact that more smokers die from cardiovascular diseases than they do from lung cancer. Given the clear role that carbon monoxide plays in smoking-related circulatory diseases and the absence of carbon monoxide in e-cigarettes, more needs to be done to make sure that smokers with heart problems are aware of the benefits of vaping.