Concerning Levels of Uranium and Lead Found in the Urine of Teens Who Frequently Vape

Teenagers who regularly puff away on their vape throughout the day could be exposing their bodies to potentially toxic metals.

A new study led by researchers from the University of Nebraska has found that regular vapers between the ages of 13 and 17, who report using an e-cigarette at least eight times a day, have 30 percent more lead and twice as much uranium in their urine compared to their peers who only occasionally vape.

Among teens who preferred sweet vape flavors, as opposed to menthol or mint ones, biomarkers of uranium were especially high.

The research lacks a control group of teens who did not vape at all, but the pattern evident within a US sample of 200 e-cigarette users who avoided cigarettes is still concerning. For the sake of public health, the researchers argue for further investigation into the potential toxicity of e-cigarettes.

The results of this small study do not prove that vaping causes toxic metal accumulation in the body, but previous analyses have consistently found signs of toxic metals in e-cigarette aerosol samples and in the bodily fluid of vapers. At times, the blood and urine samples of vapers rival even those of cigarette smokers.

Such findings are deeply concerning because compounds like lead and uranium are known to be harmful to human development.

While e-cigarettes are often marketed as a way for adults to quit nicotine, a whole new generation of non-smokers is now taking to the habit in young adulthood. A US National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2023 found that 10 percent of high school students currently used e-cigarettes, with nearly 40 percent of those reporting vaping on at least 20 days in the previous month. Ninety percent of e-cigarette users said they used flavored products.

The word ‘vapor’ might sound like a harmless cloud of water, but e-cigarette liquid – even when nicotine-free – is full of chemicals, sometimes including toxic metals like arsenic, chromium, nickel, lead, and uranium.

Very little research has evaluated the potential of metal exposure from vaping or the effect of certain flavors, making the long-term outcomes an even bigger mystery.

Part of the problem is that each brand and type of vaporizer on the market varies significantly in its unlabeled contents.

Today, experts admit they still don’t fully know what e-cigarette vapor actually contains. Previous laboratory studies have, for instance, found that tobacco or mint flavors contain more toxic metals than sweet ones.

“Increased uranium biomarkers found within the sweet flavor category are of particular concern because candy-flavored e-cigarette products make up a substantial proportion of adolescent vapers,” the authors of the current study warn, “and sweet taste in e-cigarettes can suppress the harsh effects of nicotine and enhance its reinforcing effects, resulting in heightened brain cue-reactivity.”

The current study leaves many questions unanswered, but it joins a wave of concern over e-cigarette use among teens, which the US surgeon general described in 2018 as an epidemic.

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

“In addition to nicotine, the aerosol that users inhale and exhale from e-cigarettes can potentially expose both themselves and bystanders to other harmful substances, including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.”


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