Teenagers who vape could be at higher risk of exposure to toxic metals, study warns

Young girl vaping
Vaping could have many potential dangers, especially when it comes to young people -Credit:Getty Images

A new study has suggested that teenagers who frequently vape could be at a higher risk of exposure to toxic metals, potentially damaging brain or organ development. Sweet e-cigarette flavours may also pose additional risks, according to the pros.

The study, conducted by US academics, used responses from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, which included American teenagers aged between 13 and 17. Some 200 teenagers who vaped were included in the analysis, published in Tobacco Control.

Of these, 81 reported frequent use, 65 reported occasional use, and 45 reported intermittent use. Usage was determined by the average number of puffs per day.

Biomarkers in the urine were then tested 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.

Some 33% of vapers preferred menthol or mint flavours, while 49.8% used fruit flavoured vapes and 15.3% used sweet flavoured vapes.

Researchers have found that individuals who favour sweet-flavoured vapes may have higher uranium levels than those who opt for menthol or mint flavours. The study's authors recognised its limitations, noting that uranium in urine could result from environmental factors or diet.

Nevertheless, they highlighted: "Despite the limitations, this study reported increased urine lead and uranium levels associated with vaping frequency."

They added: "Sweet flavours might pose an additional risk of exposure to uranium."

Disposable vapes
Sweet-flavoured vapes could contain even higher levels of uranium -Credit:Getty Images

The researchers also expressed concern about the impact on young people, stating: "E-cigarette use during adolescence may increase the likelihood of metal exposure, which could adversely affect brain and organ development."

They called for more research, regulation, and public health measures to address the potential dangers of vaping, especially for adolescents.

Professor Lion Shahab, co-director of the UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, commented on the study, saying: "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 pointed out that the findings should be interpreted with caution due to various sources of uranium exposure and the absence of a non-vaping control group of teenagers in the study.

Prof Shahab stated: "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."

According to a report by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) published in June, it found 20.5% of children in the UK had tried vaping in 2023, up from 15.8% in 2022 and 13.9% in 2020.

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