UofL is conducting a study on e-cigarettes.
UofL is conducting a study on e-cigarettes. Courtesy of Pixabay

The University of Louisville is on the hunt for people to participate in a study that may help to shed light on the cardiovascular impact of e-cigarettes as well as perceptions about the trendy devices.

The research Rachel Keith is looking to recruit at least 150 healthy people between the ages of 18 and 45 to take part in the study, which also will include users of traditional cigarettes and cigarillos, which are short narrow cigars.

Participants will have a total of two study visits, which each could last up to three hours, said Keith, a nurse practitioner who has a Ph.D. and is with the UofL School of Medicine and UofL’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute.

“We’ll meet them now and again in two years,” she said.

In addition to getting a brief physical exam, “we’ll ask them a lot of questions about their health and their tobacco habits, and then we will have them go through a series of cardiovascular testing,” including checking their blood pressure and vascular function, Keith added.

“We’ll have them use their products and then we’ll repeat a couple of those tests and then we also do get blood and urine,” she said.

The popularity of e-cigarettes, especially among youths, has been a growing concern among health advocates and some lawmakers, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s co-sponsoring legislation to increase the legal age to purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21.

Given the increased popularity of e-cigarettes and other alternatives to regular cigarettes, it’s important to build a body of literature on what effects they might have on the heart, Keith said, and regarding claims about their potential benefits.

Although many people associate tobacco use with lung disease and cancer, Keith said one of the main health outcomes is heart disease, which may not lead to complications until a person is middle to advanced age.

“We want to look at earlier indicators of changes in the system,” Keith said. “… We may be able to see something an hour or two after use that points us towards that this could have the potential to cause an issue.”

Electronic cigarettes can produce volatile organic compounds and such compounds can affect blood vessels, Keith said.

“What we don’t know is kind of the dose intensity, the thresholds of where you need to be” to get injured, she said. In other words, to affect blood vessels, “we don’t know if you would have to use … multiple ones. We don’t know if certain flavors are worse than others.”

Also, “if those levels are low enough in e-cigarettes, does that change the risk that would be associated with being exposed to those chemicals versus something that’s higher coming out of a cigarette or a cigarillo?”

Although some people use e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool, some people wind up being “dual users” of both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes. Whether a person uses a single product or a combination of products, they can participate in the study, Keith said.

Along with looking at potential health effects, “we’re asking about some of their perceptions and beliefs,” such as whether they think e-cigarettes are healthier for them, she said.

Boston University is conducting a parallel study and recruiting participants.

For more information from UofL, call 502-852-4236 or email [email protected].

Darla Carter
Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.