Although the makers of JUUL and other popular e-cigarettes have marketed their products as safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes, a new study suggests that vaping actually increases the risk of long-term addiction, particularly among teenagers.
Researchers report in a medical journal this month that while e-cigarettes expose users to lower levels of certain cancer-causing toxins, vaping doubles the amount of nicotine metabolites, which are the substances produced when the body breaks down nicotine, increasing the risk of addiction.
Researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha examined data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health, a nationally representative study of tobacco use, examining data from 16,393 smokers, 1,240 people who used nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, and 197 people who used nicotine-free e-cigarettes.
People who vaped nicotine were more likely to vape every day, according to the findings. They were also more likely to take 16 puffs, compared to three for those who vaped non-nicotine.
Tobacco nitrosamines and nicotine metabolites in the urine are both biomarkers of exposure to tobacco-related toxins linked to addiction and cancer risk. These two factors were measured in users by researchers.
Among vapers who used nicotine, the metabolites doubled over six years. This is especially problematic, as it is a marker of addiction. This is unsurprising, as prior research has shown JUUL brand e-cigarettes, arguably the catalyst for the teen vaping epidemic was designed to be as addictive as smoking cigarettes.
Following years of specifically targeting their products towards teens and prior non-smokers, thousands of JUUL vaping addiction lawsuits are now being pursued by families and young adults throughout the U.S., alleging that the company failed to warn about the dangers associated with the product, resulting in another generation of Americans addicted to nicotine.
Despite the high risk of addiction among e-cigarette users, particularly teens, data from this new study show that e-cigarette users had lower nicotine exposure than tobacco cigarette smokers. NNAL (4-methylnitrosamino-1-3-pyridyl-1 butanol), a metabolite of a tobacco-related carcinogen, was found to be lower in e-cigarette users than in tobacco smokers throughout the study period, and the levels remained stable over time.
In 2016-2018, the average NNAL level was 5.1 pg/mg creatinine for nicotine e-cigarette users, 3.8 pg/mg for non-nicotine vapers, and 218.3 pg/mg for tobacco smokers.
According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3 million middle and high school students in the United States currently use tobacco. E-cigarettes remain the most popular form of tobacco use among young people.
Furthermore, students who had poor grades, experienced psychological distress, or identified as LGBTQ+ reported higher levels of tobacco use, according to the CDC study.
Overall, the study concluded two key points: vaping may be better for nicotine users than smoking cigarettes because it reduces cancer-related toxin exposure. However, vaping greatly increases the risk of addiction for users, and over a lifetime of use, especially given that the health risks of vaping may not be apparent for decades, it may lead to elevated levels of toxins.