MONDAY, Aug. 27, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Electronic cigarettes appear to be far less harmful than tobacco cigarettes and don't seem to damage the heart, a new, small study suggests.
In recent years, electronic cigarettes -- which simulate the effect of smoking by producing an inhaled vapor -- have been marketed as a safer alternative to regular cigarettes.
Smoking is the most preventable risk factor for heart disease, which is the main cause of illness and death in smokers. Coronary artery disease alone accounts for 40 percent of smokers' deaths, according to the study authors.
For the new study, researchers examined heart function in 20 daily smokers, aged 25 to 45, before and after smoking one tobacco cigarette, and in 22 daily electronic cigarette smokers of similar age before and after they used the device for seven minutes.
Smoking one tobacco cigarette resulted in a significant increase in blood pressure and heart rate, but electronic cigarettes had only a minimal effect on heart function. This indicates that even though electronic cigarettes do contain nicotine, it is absorbed at a lower rate compared to tobacco cigarettes, the researchers said.
The study was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, which concludes Wednesday in Munich, Germany.
"It is too early to say whether the electronic cigarette is a revolution in tobacco harm reduction but the potential is there. It is the only available product that deals with both the chemical (nicotine delivery) and psychological (inhaling and exhaling 'smoke', holding it, etc.) addiction to smoking. Laboratory analyses indicate that it is significantly less toxic and our study has shown no significant defects in cardiac function after acute use," study author Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos said in a conference news release.
"More clinical studies need to be done before suggesting that this is a revolutionary product. However, considering the extreme hazards associated with cigarette smoking, currently available data suggest that electronic cigarettes are far less harmful and substituting tobacco with electronic cigarettes may be beneficial to health," added Farsalinos, who's with the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens, Greece.
The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about smoking and your heart.