Two Studies Show Dramatic Increase in Teen Vaping, and Its Related Health Risks

December 17, 2018

By Chloe Aiello

A study released on Monday found a dramatic increase in vaping among teenagers ー after a second study found that the increasingly popular habit comes with not-insignificant health risks.

"Vaping appears to be less harmful than smoking, but then again smoking kills half of the people who do it long-term. So, again, it's a low bar to be safer than smoking," Rachel Becker, a reporter with the Verge, told Cheddar on Monday.

On Monday, The National Institute on Drug Abuse published a study that showed a rapid increase in vaping among samples of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders surveyed. The percentage of high school seniors who used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days nearly doubled from 11 percent in 2017 to 20.9 percent in 2018; and 10.9 percent of eighth graders said they had vaped at least once in the past year.

Another study published Friday in JAMA Network Open studied the impacts of vaping by comparing the urine of more than 5,000 participants. It found urine of vapers contained more heavy metals and signs of exposure to carcinogens and toxins than that of non-vapers, but contained less than that of smokers. Those who fared the worst were the participants who had both vaped and smoked.

While the results for vapers were better than the results of smokers, they were still troubling.

According to Becker the study found that e-cigarette users had about 19 percent more lead, 23 percent more of the heavy metal cadmium, 20 percent more of a carcinogen biomarker linked to heart attacks, and 66 percent more of a toxin linked to sterility and cancer in their urine than those who've never smoked or vaped. Vapers also showed similar levels of exposure to certain heavy metals and volatile organic compounds as smokers.

So all those teens are getting at least some of those toxins ー and maybe others. The study does have limitations: it did not study the effects of exposure, only what showed up in participants' urine, and it only attempted to look at toxins that might be expected from tobacco use. There may be other toxins there that the study did not account for, Becker said. Additionally, the data from questionnaires and samples submitted is fairly old ー from 2013 and 2014 ー so it predates the overwhelming popularity of certain high dose pens like Juul.

The Food and Drug Administration and anti-smoking activists blame e-cigarette maker Juul and its sleek design, sexy marketing, and fun flavors for contributing to the rampant spread of teen smoking. The FDA has sought restrictions on Juul and other e-cigarette makers, but that hasn't curbed interest in their companies. As recently as late November, Marlboro-maker Altria was reportedly in talks to take a sizable minority stake in Juul.

For full interview click here.