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Specialists call for 'aggressive' measures against e-cigarettes

After uncovering a key mechanism that could explain how e-cigarettes harm the lungs, brain, and cardiovascular system, a team of researchers now calls for much stricter regulation of these electronic devices.

More researchers are pressing for even tighter regulation of e-cigarettes, citing dangers to health. Electronic cigarettes — e-cigarettes, for short — were developed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, in an effort to help wean smokers off their harmful habit.

However, evidence has increasingly come to light that the liquid that goes into an e-cigarette and the materials of the devices themselves contain dangerous levels of toxic substances that can harm health.

Moreover, researchers have found that e-cigarettes can provide a gateway to smoking and other addictive behaviors among teenagers, who may see these devices as a social trend.

And recently, various media outlets have reported several cases of adolescents being hospitalized with severe health problems from e-cigarette use.

The most recent report involves a 17-year-old who experienced such serious lung damage from e-cigarette use that he needed a double lung transplant.

"According to the [United States] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 3.6 million children in the U.S. use e-cigarettes, with a jump of 78% — from 11.7% to 20.8% — among U.S. high school students reporting e-cigarette use from 2017 to 2018," reports Dr. Thomas Münzel, of the University Medical Centre Mainz, in Germany.

He continues, "And in the [United Kingdom], 1.6% of those aged 11–18 use e-cigarettes more than once a week, compared with 0.5% in 2015."

In light of these figures and the reports of dangers associated with e-cigarette use, Dr. Münzel and colleagues have conducted their own study — in humans and mice — to learn more about how and why these devices can damage vital organs.

In response to their findings, which appear in the European Heart Journal, the researchers now actively encourage policymakers to take more decisive measures in regulating e-cigarettes.

Uncovering underlying mechanisms

As part of their research, Dr. Münzel and the team first looked at how e-cigarette vapors would affect blood flow and artery stiffness in 20 "otherwise healthy smokers" both before they used an e-cigarette and 15 minutes after they had used one.

This experiment showed that using an e-cigarette just once increased participants' heart rates, made their arteries stiffer, and affected the functioning of their arterial lining, known as the endothelium, which plays a complex role in circulatory health.

Among other functions, the endothelium helps ensure that vessels dilate and constrict correctly, that toxic substances do not pass into the bloodstream, and that inflammation and blood clotting are regulated, when necessary.

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