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Chemicals used to flavor tobacco may damage blood vessels

Chemicals used in popular flavorings like clove, mint and vanilla that are added to cigarettes, e-liquids and other tobacco products can harm blood vessel cells that help keep the heart healthy, a new study shows.

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“One of the biggest, I think, questions that remains is how much of the flavoring additives get into the blood circulation after you inhale them,” said Jessica L. Fetterman, a vascular biologist at Boston University School of Medicine. Fetterman is the lead author of the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology and funded in part by the American Heart Association.

For the study, Fetterman and her colleagues looked at cells from the aorta and veins of smokers and non-smokers. These cells help regulate blood flow and blood vessel inflammation — a hallmark of heart disease. In the lab, they added nine chemicals used to flavor tobacco to the cells to see how the cells reacted. They observed reactions that suggest ingesting the chemicals affects cells in ways that may increase risk for heart disease and stroke.

The findings indicate the chemicals cause harm separate from the known harms caused by tobacco.

The results show, for example, that chemicals used in vanilla and clove flavorings caused the type of cell damage seen in diabetes and high blood pressure, two leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The study also found that even at low concentrations the chemicals caused blood vessel inflammation.

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