February is American Heart Month, and a preventive cardiologist said one of the biggest risk factors to Americans' heart health in the years ahead is vaping.
A pair of recent studies publicized by the American Heart Association showed e-cigarettes are "just as dangerous, or even worse, for your heart" than traditional cigarettes.
"I would argue we're in totally new territory," said Dr. Joshua Liberman, a preventive cardiologist at Ascension Columbia St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee.
He said that's because vaping cartridges and e-cigarettes contain chemicals and high levels of nicotine but are often marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes. He thinks that's dangerous.
"When you add the addictive potential of nicotine with the new nature of something selling itself as a potentially healthy alternative to something bad, then that's where trends grow and develop a groundswell and become a huge epidemic," Liberman said.
One study found vaping can worsen heart disease risk factors like cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose levels, at roughly the same rate as traditional cigarettes.
"We've known for a while that smoking cigarettes, combusted tobacco, will lower your good cholesterol. We know having a low, good cholesterol is a significant risk factor for heart attacks and for strokes," Liberman said. "Now, we have evidence that vaping can do the same thing."
In a second study, researchers allege e-cigarettes decrease blood flow in the heart even more than traditional cigarettes.
"There's evidence vaping increases inflammation in the blood vessels, it makes the blood vessels less flexible and less reactive," Liberman said.
He said that problem could lead to blood clotting, and heart attacks and strokes, down the road.
"We certainly have evidence that what's going on is not going to be good long term," he added.
Liberman said there's often a public perception that smoking vaping cartridges or e-cigarettes can help traditional smokers quit cigarettes.
"If you use it as a step towards quitting, it could be potentially very useful," Liberman said. "But the problem is that what the last few years have shown us is it's often not a step towards quitting. It's an entryway into smoking for a lot of the country's youth."
"It may be safer than cigarettes, but there are so many compounds and chemicals in e-cigarettes and in the pods, the vaping pods, that there's evidence these long term are not going to be healthy, and it's a huge public health issue because our kids are using them and thinking they're safe," he added.
"I think in the next five to 10 years, we're going to see a profound increase in respiratory and cardiac illnesses in predominantly younger people that, unfortunately, is not going to be surprising," Liberman said.