Although e-cigarettes have been found to help people smoke fewer cigarettes, until now, little has been known about their effects on the heart and risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The research project, funded by Heart Research UK, involved 248 smokers who wanted to stop smoking and who were randomly divided into three groups. One group received nicotine-rich e-cigarettes, another nicotine-free e-cigarettes and the third received conventional nicotine replacement therapy. All groups also received behavioural change support that NHS stop smoking services provide.
The focus of the study was to find out how the three aids affect the cardiovascular system.
It was found that there were immediate, positive effects on the small arteries and veins, with no significant difference between the three groups, and these benefits were most pronounced in those who smoked more than 20 cigarettes per day.
The improvement in blood vessel health persisted both in the medium (three months after stopping smoking) and longer-term (six months after stopping) in all three groups, without any difference between the groups.
The results show that e-cigarettes offer similar benefits to blood vessel health compared to established stop smoking methods and reduce CVD risk. This will help smokers make an informed decision about which option to choose.
Dr Markos Klonizakis, who led the project, said: "Vaping is used widely both as a stop smoking aid and a recreational tool, overtaking smoking. Although our work doesn't suggest
that it is safe for the general population, it confirms that vaping can benefit the arteries and small of veins of people wishing to stop smoking.
“This is a ground-breaking finding, complementing previous work in the field. Hopefully, our work can help people and policy makers make the right decisions, to support smoking cessation."
The findings, published in BMC Medicine, could influence changes to the national ‘Stop Smoking’ strategy and the NICE guidelines on the use of e-cigarettes, and help to improve regulation of the e-cigarettes industry.
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide, with the majority of these deaths due to cardiovascular disease. Around 78,000 people in the UK die from smoking each year.
Helen Wilson, Head of Research at Heart Research UK, said: “Stopping smoking is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. E-cigarettes have become a very popular choice for people wanting to give up smoking but until now, little was known about their effects on the heart and blood vessels.
“This study provides important new evidence to help people make an informed decision about which aid to stop smoking they choose. We are proud to have funded this important study.”