Toxic metals in vapes damage teenagers’ brain and organ development, study suggests

By Staff 7 Min Read

Some 200 teenagers who vaped were included in the analysis. Usage was determined by the average number of puffs per day, with frequent users taking a total of 27 puffs

Vaping teenagers could be at a higher risk of exposure to toxic metals, which could potentially harm brain or organ development, according to a new study.

The research also suggests that sweet e-cigarette flavours could pose additional risks. The study was conducted by US academics who analysed responses from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, which included American teenagers aged between 13 and 17. The analysis included some 200 teenagers who vaped.

Out of the group, 81 reported frequent vaping, with 65 reporting occasional use and 45 reporting intermittent use. Usage was determined by the average number of puffs per day, with frequent users taking 27 puffs, intermittent users taking 7.9 puffs and occasional users taking 0.9 puffs.

The researchers then assessed biomarkers in the urine for the presence of the metals lead, uranium and cadmium. The study found that both frequent and intermittent e-cigarette users had higher lead levels in their urine than those who vaped occasionally. Frequent vapers also had higher levels of uranium in their urine compared to occasional users. The study also discovered that different vape flavours affected the uranium levels, reports Nottinghamshire Live.

A new study has revealed that 33% of vapers have a preference for menthol or mint flavours, while nearly half at 49.8% opt for fruit-flavoured e-cigarettes and 15.3% choose sweet flavours. The research suggests that those indulging in sweet-flavoured vapes might be exposing themselves to higher uranium levels than those who favour menthol or mint.

The researchers have pointed out the limitations of their study, noting that uranium found in urine could also come from environmental or dietary sources. Yet, they highlighted: “Despite the limitations, this study reported increased urine lead and uranium levels associated with vaping frequency.”

They further warned: “Sweet flavours might pose an additional risk of exposure to uranium. E-cigarette use during adolescence may increase the likelihood of metal exposure, which could adversely affect brain and organ development.” The findings have sparked calls for more research, stricter regulations on vaping, and public health initiatives aimed at reducing the potential risks of e-cigarettes, especially for young people.

Professor Lion Shahab, co-director of the UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, commented on the study’s importance: “This is a well-conducted study underscoring the need to carefully monitor exposure in e-cigarette users and highlights the fact that e-cigarettes are not risk-free and therefore should not be used by people who have never smoked, particularly adolescents.”

However, he noted that the study’s context is important, including the fact that uranium exposure can come from various sources. The analysis did not include a control group of non-vaping teens, he pointed out. Prof Shahab said: “This study therefore cannot tell us anything about absolute increase in exposure to heavy metals from e-cigarette use in this population, only about relative exposure among less and more frequent e-cigarette users.”

“Given that heavy metal exposure is mostly driven by the type of device used, future studies should investigate whether there are any meaningful differences between different e-cigarette types to inform regulators to curtail use of devices that expose users to more heavy metals. The relatively small sample size in this study meant that this issue could not be investigated.”

A report by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) released last June revealed that 20.5% of UK children had tried vaping in 2023, a rise from 15.8% in 2022 and 13.9% in 2020. The Government’s Tobacco and Vapes Bill, announced in October, is set to forge a “smoke-free generation” by banning tobacco sales to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009.

The bill also aims to tackle the allure of vapes to youngsters, with potential measures to control their display in stores, as well as restrictions on flavours and packaging.

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