Evidence is mounting that vaping damages blood vessels, especially if you also smoke tobacco, and that the damage happens quickly. Here's what you should know.
The use of vape products has surged in popularity — especially among young people. More than 2.5 million middle school and high school students say they vape. These battery-powered devices heat a liquid containing nicotine, flavorings, and chemicals to produce an aerosol that people breathe into their lungs.
Nicotine, the addictive chemical in tobacco and vapes, causes your blood vessels to constrict or narrow, limiting the amount of blood flow to your major organs. Over time, constricted blood vessels decrease the amount of oxygen and other nutrients your cells need.
Some tobacco users vape to help them quit traditional cigarettes. While vape products contain fewer toxic chemicals than tobacco smoke, they come with their own set of health risks.
Studies are showing that vaping can damage blood vessels and harm your cardiovascular health overall, especially when people do it in combination with tobacco smoking.
Vaping increases heart disease risks
In a study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, researchers collected blood samples from 120 vape users, tobacco smokers, and nonsmokers. In the blood of both smokers and vape users, they discovered certain qualities and biomarkers that suggested poor blood vessel function and increased cardiovascular disease risks.
For one thing, the blood vessels of smokers and vapers were less able to expand. There were also signs of increased inflammation and a higher risk for blood clots. The mechanisms by which vapes and tobacco cigarettes harmed blood vessels, however, were different.
"These findings suggest that using the two products together, as many people do, could increase their health risks compared to using them individually," lead author Matthew Springer, PhD, a professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the University of California in San Francisco, said.
Blood vessel damage can happen quickly
The effects of vaping on blood vessels are rapid, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found when they performed magnetic resonance imaging (or MRI) scans on 31 healthy non-smokers before and after they vaped. Just a single vaping session had a negative effect on the endothelium — the lining of the large artery that supplies blood to the leg. Damage to the endothelium is linked to hardening of the arteries that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
"Beyond the harmful effects of nicotine, we've shown that vaping has a sudden, immediate effect on the body's vascular function, and could potentially lead to long-term harmful consequences," said study author Felix Wehrli, PhD, professor of radiologic science and biophysics at Penn Medicine.
Combining vaping with smoking increases blood vessel risks
In other research published in the journal Circulation, investigators compared the heart health of more than 24,000 smokers, vapers, and non-smokers who were enrolled in the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (or PATH) study.
Although cardiovascular risk didn't differ significantly between vape users and people who didn’t smoke or vape, people who used both products had a much higher risk of heart disease compared to non-users. The authors say that quitting both tobacco and vaping is the best way to reduce heart risks.
What you can do
Vapes are still relatively new, and researchers are just starting to learn about their health effects. While some people have used vaping to help them quit smoking, it's not the safest smoking cessation method.
These approaches are more proven and less harmful ways to reduce your dependence on cigarettes:
- Medications such as bupropion (Wellbutrin SR, Wellbutrin XL) and varenicline (Chantix)
- Nicotine replacement products like patches, lozenges, gums, sprays, and inhalers
In addition to containing chemicals with dubious health effects, vape products are highly addictive — possible even more so than traditional cigarettes. For young people who have started vaping and are having trouble quitting, programs like This Is It from the Truth Initiative are available to help.
May 15, 2023
Janet O'Dell, RN