E-cigarettes use flavored tobacco and have become increasingly popular. The potential harmful risks of flavored tobacco remain unknown. A research group at Boston University evaluated whether flavoured tobacco is harmful, and if so, to what extent.
The popularity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) has significantly increased over the past decade. The majority of e-cigarette users are smokers. This brings up an interesting question of whether e-cigarettes help in quitting smoking. On the other hand, e-cigarettes are also used by teenagers. It has been reported that teenagers who use e-cigarettes are at increased risk of using other tobacco products later on.
Other than cigarettes, tobacco products are allowed to contain flavored tobacco. The effects of the chemicals of flavored tobacco on the cardiovascular system have not yet been studied. One recent study observed that blood vessel constriction was impaired in individuals after using an e-cigarette. Although there is a correlation between poor blood vessel health and e-cigarette use, the mechanisms by which this occurs are not known, and whether the flavored tobacco may play a role is uncertain.
A research team out of Boston University developed a protocol that would allow them to determine whether flavored tobacco products are toxic to cells that make up blood vessels, and if so, what the toxicity level is. Their findings were recently published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.
They added a panel of nine different chemicals used in flavored tobacco to these cells. The research team consequently observed a number of measures of blood vessel and cell function, including measuring cell death, oxidative stress, inflammation, and the availability of nitric oxide.
They found that certain chemical resulted in damaged cells in a similar way to those observed in patients with diabetes or those who have high blood pressure. The researchers also found that these chemicals were able to cause blood vessel inflammation even at low doses. The results show that the chemicals which are used to flavor tobacco are causing damage that is independent of the damage caused by the tobacco alone.
Although the study was conducted in cells in the lab and not on real specimens, further investigation is warranted due to potential inaccuracies in assessing the effects of these chemicals. These findings prove to be important, although they do need to be further validated. In addition, findings such as these may open the eyes of regulators to consider re-evaluating flavored tobacco in e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration has already reflected on regulating flavored tobacco.
Written by Ingrid Qemo, PhD
Reference: Fetterman, J.L., Weisbrod, R.M., Feng, B., et al. 2018. Flavorings in tobacco products induce endothelial cell dysfunction. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 38:00-00. DOI: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.118.311156