WVU professor conducts research on cardiovascular effects of vaping

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A student’s face is hidden behind a cloud of smoke as he walks on the downtown campus Wednesday, May 2, 2018.

Recent research conducted by a professor at West Virginia University highlighted the potential dangers and effects that vaping can have on teens if they continue vaping into adulthood.

According to researchers, vaping has surpassed all other forms of tobacco use in middle and high schoolers. New research conducted by Mark Olfert, an associate professor in the West Virginia University School of Medicine, suggests that if teenagers continue to vape into adulthood, the cardiovascular effects may, by some measures, be as serious as if they’d smoked cigarettes.

Many fruit, candy, and other sweet flavors of ‘juices’ for e-cigarettes appeal to younger consumers, but virtually all e-cigarettes contain a similar base solution that often includes nicotine, researchers said. Over a period of 8 months, Olfert and his colleagues exposed animal models to four hours of this e-cigarette base solution, five days a week. Olfert said that this amount of exposure was equivalent to 25 years for humans.

The research team then exposed a second group of models to cigarette smoke for the same duration, while a third group served as a control group and was exposed to clean air.

Following the experiment, researchers said that they found that chronic exposure to e-cigarette vapor stiffened the aorta, the body’s main artery, 2.5 times more than the regular aging process did in a vape- or smoke-free environment. In comparison, cigarette smoke caused a 2.8-fold increase.

Olfert described aortic stiffness as an “early warning sign” of cardiac and vascular-related diseases, which can include atherosclerosis, stroke and aneurysm.

“Stiff vessels can be like that old rubber band that sits in a drawer for long time, and they can lead to many problems,” Olfert said. 

For example, research showed that chronic vaping reduced the aorta’s ability to relax by 25% in animal models, while chronic smoking reduced this function by 33%, according to researchers.

The Journal of Applied Physiology published the results earlier this year, researchers said.

“Until that paper came out, there simply was not any long-term study evaluating the chronic effects of vaping on blood vessel function,” said Olfert.

Researchers said that short-term studies in people also show early signs of changes in vascular function, but the evidence for disease that stems from chronic use will take much longer to determine.

“So far, people have only been exposed to e-cigarettes for about 10 years. This is likely going to take 20 to 30 years to manifest, just like with cigarettes,” Olfert said.

Researchers said this means that adolescents and teens who take up vaping today may not see the habit’s cardiovascular effects until they’ve finished college, launched a career or secured a mortgage. In the meantime, scientists are relying mostly on animal models to gather and interpret data on the health effects of vaping.

Olfert’s findings take on added significance due to the Food and Drug Administration’s crackdown on teen e-cigarette use. Olfert pointed out that the Surgeon General’s report on e-cigarettes indicate that e-cigarettes now surpass all other forms of tobacco use among middle and high schoolers.

Olfert said he is also troubled by the fact that the number of e-cigarette users between the ages of 18 and 24 now exceed the number of e-cigarette users ages 25 and older.

“Our real concern is what happens with the younger generations, particularly in the context of the unknowns,” Olfert said. “The data we’ve generated in the lab, using animal models, are suggesting that e-cigarettes are not safer than cigarettes with respect to the blood vessel health. Simply put, we’re seeing the same degrees of dysfunction between e-cigarettes and smoking.”

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