Used vapes collected at Baxter College in Kidderminster underwent laboratory testing, revealing concerning results that indicate children using these devices could be inhaling more than twice the daily safe amount of lead and nine times the safe amount of nickel. Additionally, some of the tested vapes contained harmful chemicals similar to those found in cigarette smoke.
The World Health Organization warns that high levels of lead exposure in children can have detrimental effects on their central nervous system and brain development. It is believed that vapes are widely used among secondary school children, and Baxter College is not the only educational institution aiming to prevent vaping during school hours.
A laboratory called Inter Scientific, based in Liverpool, analyzed 18 vapes, most of which were illegal and had not undergone any form of testing before being sold in the UK. David Lawson, co-founder of the lab, expressed shock at the findings, stating that he had never encountered lead in a vape device throughout his 15 years of testing. The levels of metals found in “highlighter vapes,” designed to resemble highlighter pens with vibrant colors, were found to exceed safe exposure levels: lead was present at 2.4 times the stipulated safe level, nickel at 9.6 times safe levels, and chromium at 6.6 times safe levels. Surprisingly, the metals were discovered in the e-liquid itself, originating from the heating element.
Furthermore, the lab tests detected carbonyl compounds, which, when heated, break down into chemicals like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde—also present in cigarette smoke—at levels 10 times higher than those found in legal vapes, with some surpassing even cigarette levels.
Manufacturers are required to comply with regulations regarding ingredients, packaging, and marketing, and all e-cigarettes and e-liquids must be registered with the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). However, the MHRA does not verify the claims made in the registration paperwork and lacks the authority to investigate unregistered products.
Craig Copland, head of e-cigarettes at the MHRA, stated that the results will be reviewed to assess potential health risks posed by these vapes.
When shown the findings, Baxter College students Leon and Oscar, whose vapes had been confiscated, acknowledged their nicotine addiction and the difficulties they faced in quitting vaping. They admitted that it is easy to disregard the risks associated with vaping when one is addicted.
Head teacher Mat Carpenter expressed his horror at the results and has installed sensors in school toilets to minimize opportunities for vaping. He emphasized the need for a strong message to influence children’s behavior and address the lag in societal efforts to combat the issue.
Professor John Britton, an epidemiologist at the University of Nottingham, warned of the dangers of inhaling metals, citing lead as a neurotoxin that impairs brain development and highlighting the allergenic properties of chromium and nickel. Metal particles in the bloodstream can trigger blood clotting and worsen cardiovascular disease. He added that carbonyls are mildly carcinogenic and, with prolonged use, can increase the risk of cancer. However, legal products contain extremely low levels of these substances, resulting in a minimal lifetime risk for individuals.
David Lawson observed an alarming increase in illegal products recently, noting the difficulty in distinguishing potentially legal vapes from illegal ones.
The UK government has allocated £3 million to address the sale of illegal vapes in England, aiming to fund more test purchases and remove these products from stores. The government is also seeking evidence to reduce children’s access to vapes. It is illegal to sell vapes to individuals under 18 years old. However, a YouGov survey conducted for Action on Smoking and Health indicated a rise in experimental vaping among 11- to 17-year-olds, from 7.7%.