Frequent vaping exposes teens to toxic metals •

A new study led by the University of Nebraska Medical Center suggests that frequent vaping among teenagers could increase their exposure to toxic metals like lead and uranium, potentially endangering brain and organ development. These findings highlight the urgent need for regulatory and preventative measures aimed at this age group.

Vaping popularity

Vaping has become increasingly popular among teenagers. In 2022, data showed that approximately 14% of U.S. high school students (around 2.14 million) and over 3% of middle school students (around 380,000) reported vaping in the previous month. 

The researchers note that certain metals, which are particularly harmful during developmental stages, have been found in e-cigarette aerosols and liquids. 

Exposure to these metals is associated with cognitive issues, behavioral disturbances, respiratory problems, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases in children.

The study aimed to explore the relationship between the frequency of vaping, the choice of vape flavors, and the levels of potentially toxic metals

The researchers utilized data from the nationally representative Wave 5 (December 2018 to November 2019) of the PATH Youth Study, which included 1,607 teenagers aged 13 to 17. After certain exclusions, 200 vapers were analyzed.

Participants’ urine samples were tested for cadmium, lead, and uranium. Vaping frequency was categorized into occasional (1–5 days/month), intermittent (6–19 days), and frequent (20+ days). 

Additionally, vape flavors were classified into four groups: menthol or mint; fruit; sweet flavors like chocolate or desserts; and other flavors including tobacco, clove or spice, and alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks.

Lead levels among vapers 

Among the 200 exclusive vapers analyzed (63% female), the study found that lead levels were 40% higher in intermittent vapers and 30% higher in frequent vapers compared to occasional users. 

Uranium levels were notably twice as high in frequent vapers as in those who vaped occasionally. Furthermore, vapers who preferred sweet flavors exhibited 90% higher uranium levels compared to those choosing menthol/mint flavors.

No significant differences were noted in urinary cadmium levels across different vaping frequencies or flavor types.

While this is an observational study and definitive conclusions about the relationship between toxic metal levels and vaping habits cannot be made, the researchers caution that metal content in vaping devices can vary by brand and device type (tank, pod, mod). 

The experts also note that although urinary levels indicate chronic exposure, they only represent a single point in time. Additionally, uranium found in urine can come from various sources, including environmental exposure from natural deposits, industrial activities, and diet.

Broader study implications 

“Nonetheless, these compounds are known to cause harm in humans. Of particular concern were the increased uranium levels found within the sweet flavor category,” noted the study authors. 

“Candy-flavored 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.” 

“E-cigarette use during adolescence may increase the likelihood of metal exposure, which could adversely affect brain and organ development. 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.”

Vaping health concerns

Vaping, often considered as a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes, still raises significant health concerns. The practice involves inhaling vapor from electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), which use a liquid that contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. 

Lung damage

One major concern is that e-cigarettes can cause damage to the lungs. The inhalation of vapor can lead to conditions like e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI), which has been linked to serious lung damage and even deaths.

 Heart problems 

Another issue is that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is highly addictive and can lead to sustained tobacco product use among younger people. It also poses other health risks such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, which could lead to cardiovascular problems. 

Harmful substances 

In addition to the potential exposure to heavy metals, vaping is associated with potential exposure to other harmful substances like volatile organic compounds and carcinogenic chemical compounds that come from both the liquid itself and the heating elements of the devices.

Despite the potential for reduced exposure to some of the more harmful toxins present in cigarette smoke, the long-term health effects of vaping are still not fully understood, and research continues to uncover new risks. This ongoing…

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