Vaping teens have higher lead and uranium in their bodies

A new study shows that teens who vape often have twice as much uranium and 30% more lead in their urine.

The research, published in the journal Tobacco Control, sought to understand if any potentially toxic metals could be linked with vaping frequency or flavour.

Sweet flavours, they found, led to even higher levels of uranium. Vapers who preferred sweet flavours had 90% higher levels of uranium than those who opted for menthol or mint vapes.

The study involved 200 teenaged vapers based on data from a broader study involving more than 1,600 teens in the US.

Of these participants, 65 were occasional vapers (average 0.9 puffs a day), 45 used vapes intermittently (7.9 puffs a day) and 81 were frequent users (27 puffs a day).

Vape flavours were divided into four groups: fruit, menthol or mint, sweet such as desserts, and others which includes tobacco, spices or drinks.

Urine samples from the study participants were analysed in the research.

Lead levels were 40% higher in intermittent vapers and 30% higher in frequent vapers compared to those who vape only occasionally.  Uranium levels were twice as high among frequent vapers compared to occasional vapers. Cadmium levels were also tested, but no statistically significant variance was seen.

Small amounts of uranium and toxic heavy metals like lead can sometimes be found in our diet. Root crops like potatoes and turnips can have uranium in them, related to the amount of uranium in the soil they’re grown in. Lead can sometimes be found in cereals, grains and vegetables.

Lead and uranium have also been found in cigarettes and alcohol.

The authors note that the sample size is relatively small. They add that uranium and lead levels may vary, but the study was based on levels at a single point in time. They suggest further study which also takes into account geographical location which might also impact on the levels.

“Nonetheless, these compounds are known to cause harm in humans,” they write. “Candy-flavoured e-cigarette products make up a substantial proportion of adolescent vapers, and sweet taste in e-cigarettes can suppress the harsh effects of nicotine and enhance its reinforcing effects, resulting in heightened brain cue-reactivity.”

In Australia, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, vaping among 18- to 24-year-olds has increased from 5.3% in 2019 to 21% in 2022–23. Among 14- to 17-year-olds, the increase was from 1.8% to 9.7%.  

“These findings call for further research, vaping regulation, and targeted public health interventions to mitigate the potential harms of e-cigarette use, particularly among adolescents,” the authors say.

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