Vape Habit Raises Toxic Metal Exposure in Teens, Study Finds

As more evidence of the dangers of vaping continues to emerge, new research has found that young people who vape — particularly those who vape frequently — are more likely to be exposed to toxic metals.

Teenagers who vape often have higher levels of exposure to lead and uranium compared to those who don’t smoke e-cigarettes or vape infrequently, a new study has found, reaffirming what experts have long been warning — that youth vaping poses a significant public health concern.

The new study, published in BMJ Journals, found that frequent and intermittent e-cigarette users between the ages of 13 and 17 had increased lead levels in their urine compared with those who occasionally vaped, while frequent users also had higher urine uranium levels than occasional users.

Researchers conducted the study by collecting data from the PATH Youth Study using a nationally representative sample of United States civilian non-institutionalized individuals, among which they found 200 nicotine e-cigarette users. Participants completed a survey during an interview and voluntarily provided in-person urine samples.

E-cigarette users were then grouped as: occasional users (1–5 days in the last month), intermittent users (6–19 days in the last month), and frequent users (20+ days in the last month). The researchers also asked what flavors the participants used and found higher uranium levels in users of sweet flavors compared with menthol/mint users.

“These compounds are known to cause harm in humans,” the authors wrote. “Chronic exposure to lead at low levels has been shown to have adverse effects on cardiovascular and renal systems, cognitive and psychiatric development, and decreased fertility in both sexes. Uranium can cause local cytotoxic effects when inhaled, as well as renal tubular toxicity as a major effect.”

Recent data shows that vaping among young people has seen a sharp increase in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2023, about one out of every 22 middle school students reported that they had used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days, while one in every 10 high school students reported that they had used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days.

“Vaping in early life could increase the risk of exposure to metals, potentially harming brain and organ development,” the authors wrote in the study. “Regulations on vaping should safeguard the youth population against addiction and exposure to metals.”

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