High Levels of Uranium and Lead Detected in the Urine of Teenagers Regularly Using Vapes

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Teenagers who habitually puff on their vape throughout the day may be subjecting their bodies to potentially toxic metals.

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A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Nebraska has revealed that regular adolescent vapers aged between 13 and 17, who claim to use an e-cigarette at least eight times daily, exhibit a 30 percent increase in lead and double the amount of uranium in their urine compared to their peers who vape only occasionally.

Especially high levels of uranium biomarkers were observed among teens who favored sweet vape flavors over menthol or mint varieties.

Although the research lacks a control group of non-vaping teens, the observed pattern among a sample of 200 e-cigarette users in the US who abstained from cigarettes remains worrisome. The researchers advocate for further investigation into the potential toxicity of e-cigarettes in the interest of public health.

While the findings of this small-scale study do not definitively establish a causal relationship between vaping and toxic metal accumulation in the body, previous analyses consistently detect traces of toxic metals in e-cigarette aerosols and bodily fluids of vapers, sometimes surpassing those of cigarette smokers.

Such discoveries are deeply troubling because substances like lead and uranium are known to impede human development.

Despite being promoted as a smoking cessation aid for adults, e-cigarettes are attracting a new generation of non-smokers in their youth. According to a US National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2023, 10 percent of high school students currently engage in vaping, with nearly 40 percent of them vaping on at least 20 days in the previous month. Additionally, 90 percent of e-cigarette users prefer flavored products.

Although the term ‘vapor’ may evoke a benign image of water vapor, e-cigarette liquid, even when devoid of nicotine, contains an array of chemicals, including toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium, nickel, lead, and uranium.

There is scant research evaluating the potential risks of metal exposure from vaping or the impact of specific flavors, exacerbating the uncertainty surrounding long-term consequences.

A significant challenge lies in the substantial variation in unlabeled contents among different brands and types of vaporizers available on the market.

Even today, experts concede that the full composition of e-cigarette vapor remains largely unknown. Prior laboratory investigations, for instance, indicate that tobacco or mint flavors harbor more toxic metals than sweet flavors.

The authors of the current study caution, “The increased uranium biomarkers detected in the sweet flavor category are particularly troubling because candy-flavored e-cigarette products are widely favored by adolescent vapers, and the sweet taste in e-cigarettes can mitigate the harsh effects of nicotine and enhance its reinforcing effects, leading to heightened brain cue-reactivity.”

While the current study leaves many questions unanswered, it adds to the growing apprehension regarding e-cigarette use among adolescents, described by the US Surgeon General in 2018 as an epidemic.

“Nicotine exposure during adolescence can impact learning, memory, and attention,” the Surgeon General’s Advisory highlighted at the time.

“In addition to nicotine, the aerosol emitted by e-cigarettes can potentially expose both users and bystanders to other harmful substances, including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and ultrafine particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs.”

Regardless of age, no level of vaping can be deemed safe, but this addictive behavior may pose heightened risks for young individuals.

The study findings were published in Tobacco Control.

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