Toxic Heavy Metals are Leaking from Some E-Cigarettes

Toxic heavy metals are leaking from some e-cigarettes, and the consumption of those heavy metals has been linked to brain damage and a variety of other health problems.

Only a few weeks ago, UK health bodies suggested electronic cigarettes should be in hospital shops to encourage smokers to wean themselves off their habit.

But a new study has discovered toxic levels of heavy metals in e-cigarette aerosols, once again raising doubts over just how safe vaping really is.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analysed e-cigarette vaporisers borrowed from 56 daily vapers, and found many were being exposed to potentially toxic levels of chromium, nickel, and lead.

Their research comes on the back of a preliminary study they’d conducted in 2016, which had detected elevated levels of nickel and chromium in the urine and saliva of e-cigarette users.

High concentrations of these heavy metals have been linked to a variety of health conditions in the past, including cardiovascular disease, brain damage, and a variety of cancers.

While the studies don’t go as far as to connect vaping with any of these health problems, it’s no great leap to infer there’s an increase in risk.

[…]

“We don’t know yet whether metals are chemically leaching from the coil or vaporising when it’s heated,” says the study’s senior author, Ana María Rule.

Just under half of the devices analysed produced aerosols with lead levels that exceed Environmental Protection Agency limits. The average levels of nickel, chromium, and manganese were also in an unsafe margin.

“These were median levels only,” says Rule.

“The actual levels of these metals varied greatly from sample to sample, and often were much higher than safe limits.”

Analysis Finds 60% People Who Try a Cigarette Become Daily Smokers

The addictive power of cigarettes shouldn’t be underestimated. The damage to health that cigarettes do shouldn’t be estimated either, and that’s probably why wise cigarette smokers simply tell others to not start smoking to begin with.

At least 61 per cent of people who try their first cigarette become, at least temporarily, daily smokers, suggests an analysis of survey data by Queen Mary University of London.

The findings, from over 215,000 survey respondents and published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, provides strong support for prioritising efforts to reduce cigarette experimentation among adolescents.

Lead researcher Professor Peter Hajek from Queen Mary said: “This is the first time that the remarkable hold that cigarettes can establish after a single experience has been documented from such a large set of data.

“In the development of any addictive behaviour, the move from experimentation to daily practice is an important landmark, as it implies that a recreational activity is turning into a compulsive need. We’ve found that the conversion rate from ‘first time smoker’ to ‘daily smoker’ is surprisingly high, which helps confirm the importance of preventing cigarette experimentation in the first place.

“The UK is seeing a dramatic reduction in smoking at the moment and this tallies with recent findings that only 19 per cent of 11-15 year olds have ever tried a cigarette, so the good news is that we are on the right track.”

The researchers searched the Global Health Data Exchange for relevant surveys that included questions about ever trying a cigarette and ever smoking daily. Datasets from eight surveys were found from the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand, and the survey methods were found to be on par with best practice. Data were analysed to calculate the conversion rate from ever trying a cigarette to ever smoking daily.

The team calculated that 60.3 per cent of respondents had said they had ever tried a cigarette, and among those, an estimated 68.9 per cent said they had progressed to daily smoking.

The different surveys used different methodologies and yielded different results, so the estimated 68.9 per cent ‘conversion rate’ from experimentation to daily smoking has a margin of error (between 60.9 and 76.9 per cent).

Given the high conversion rate found in all existing surveys, the researchers suggest that at least some of the reduction in smoking prevalence observed over the past 20 years is likely due to reduced experimentation with cigarettes among adolescents.

Professor Peter Hajek added: “Concerns were expressed that e-cigarettes could be as addictive as conventional cigarettes, but this has not been the case. It is striking that very few non-smokers who try e-cigarettes become daily vapers, while such a large proportion on non-smokers who try conventional cigarettes become daily smokers. The presence of nicotine is clearly not the whole story.”

Scientists Find Where Nicotine Addiction Can be Blocked in the Mouse Brain, Providing an Advance to Blocking It in the Human Brain

Humans and mice have some similar enough brain structures that make this a relevant advance in giving people increased control to stop the scourge of nicotine addiction.

Brain researchers have pinpointed a small group of brain cells that are especially responsive to nicotine, and which might be the main culprits in driving addiction to the substance.

By tweaking these neurons in mouse brains, scientists were able to curb nicotine addiction in the animals. Not only have their results solved an important piece of the nicotine addiction puzzle, but they could also lead us towards new treatments for the problem.

Nicotine is one of humanity’s most popular drugs – it’s considered to be the third most addictive substance we know. And because it holds such a sway on our brains, it’s extremely difficult to quit.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is a leading cause of preventable death, with about 1,300 people in the US dying every day due to cigarette smoking or smoke exposure.

Which is why a team led by researchers from The Rockefeller University has been digging around brain chemistry to identify potential new drug targets that could help curb the addiction.

They focussed on two small brain regions located in the midbrain – the evolutionary older part of vertebrate brains, and one of the many brain features we share with mice.

These two interconnected regions – the medial habenula and the interpeduncular nucleus (IPN) – are known to be involved in drug dependence, and also contain the receptors that nicotine binds to once it enters the bloodstream and crosses into the brain.

[…]

Even though so far we only have seen these results in mice, we do share similar brain structures with these animals, so the researchers are confident we can learn something about human addiction here.

“What all of this tells us is that the habenula-IPN pathway is important for smoking in humans,” says Ibanez-Tallon.

Now that the researchers know where to look, they’ll be further investigating how to manipulate the Amigo1 neurons in order to discover new ways to target nicotine addiction.

The study has been published in PNAS.