The number of 18 to 24-year-olds vaping has tripled in two years, driven by the emergence of disposable devices, a study has found.

Researchers from University College London examined data on vaping and smoking for 132,252 people in England from 2016 to May last year.

They found that, while smoking continues to decline across all ages, vaping was on the rise – particularly among under 25s, in which the proportion who said they vaped rose from 9 per cent in May 2021 to 29 per cent in May 2023. 

It meant that overall nicotine use rose from 28 per cent to 35 per cent, blamed on the popularity of disposable vapes.

Dr Ian Walker – executive director of policy at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study – said: ‘This shows a concerning increase in the number of young adults using vapes since disposables came on the market in the UK.’

Researchers from University College London have found that the number of 18 to 24-year-olds vaping has tripled in two years, driven by the emergence of disposable devices (file pic)

Researchers from University College London have found that the number of 18 to 24-year-olds vaping has tripled in two years, driven by the emergence of disposable devices (file pic)

Vaping may expose teenagers to toxic metals that could harm the brain and other vital organs -with the risk even higher in sweet e-cigarette flavours

Vaping may expose teenagers to toxic metals that could harm the brain and other vital organs -with the risk even higher in sweet e-cigarette flavours

The rising number of people vaping coincides with another study which suggests it may expose teenagers to toxic metals that could harm the brain and other vital organs.

The risk could be even higher in sweet e-cigarette flavours which are typically favoured by youngsters.

Experts said the findings underscore the need for tighter regulations and prevention efforts to stop the targeting of teens.

The analysis involved 200 US teenagers, aged 13 to 17, who were categorised as either frequent, intermittent or occasional vapers.

Usage was determined by the average number of puffs per day, ranging from 27 puffs, 7.9 and 0.9 puffs respectively.

Biomarkers in the urine were then assessed for the presence of the metals lead, uranium and cadmium.

Both frequent and intermittent e-cigarette users had higher lead levels in their urine than those who vaped occasionally, the study found.

Frequent vapers also had higher levels of uranium in their urine compared to occasional users.

Different vape flavours effected the uranium levels, according to the findings published in Tobacco Control.

Experts said the findings underscore the need for tighter regulations and prevention efforts to stop the targeting of teens (file pic)

Experts said the findings underscore the need for tighter regulations and prevention efforts to stop the targeting of teens (file pic)

A third of vapers preferred menthol or mint flavours, while 49.8 per cent used fruit flavoured vapes and 15.3 per cent used sweet flavoured vapes.

According to researchers, those who used sweet flavour vapes had higher uranium levels compared to those who preferred menthol or mint.

Researchers acknowledged the study’s limitations, including that the presence of uranium in urine could be down to environmental exposure or dietary intake.

However, they said: ‘Despite the limitations, this study reported increased urine lead and uranium levels associated with vaping frequency.

‘Sweet flavours might pose an additional risk of exposure to uranium.

‘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.’ 

Professor Lion Shahab, co-director of the UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, said: ‘This is a well-conducted study underscoring the need to carefully monitor exposure in e-cigarette users and highlights the fact that e-cigarettes are not risk free, and therefore should not be used by people who have never smoked, particularly adolescents.’ 

However, he said the findings should be seen in context, including that uranium exposure can come from a number of sources.

There was also no control group of teenagers who did not vape included in the analysis, he said.

Prof Shahab added: ‘This study therefore cannot tell us anything about absolute increase in exposure to heavy metals from e-cigarette use in this population, only about relative exposure among less and more frequent e-cigarette users.

‘Given that heavy metal exposure is mostly driven by the type of device used, future studies should investigate whether there are any meaningful differences between different e-cigarette types to inform regulators to curtail use of devices that expose users to more heavy metals.

‘The relatively small sample size in this study meant that this issue could not be investigated.’ 

A report published by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) last June found 20..5 per cent of children in the UK had tried vaping in 2023, up from 15.8 per cent in 2022 and 13.9 per cent in 2020.

The Government’s Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which was announced in October, aims to create a smoke-free generation by prohibiting the sale of tobacco to people born on or after January 1 2009.

It will also crack down on vapes in a bid to lessen their appeal to children and young people.

Proposals include potentially restricting how vapes are displayed in shops, as well as restrictions on flavours and packaging.

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