High Lead and Nickel Levels Detected in Illegal Vapes

Alarming levels of toxic metals detected in illegal vapes pose a significant health risk to users, particularly in Asia, where vaping prevalence is growing.

In recent years, schools and public spaces have been confiscating illegal vapes tainted with dangerous amounts of lead, nickel, and chromium, which have become an escalating global health concern.

The BBC News recently reported about such vapes seized from students at Baxter College in Kidderminster, UK. The confiscated vapes were tested in a laboratory. This is not only alarming, but also poses a significant health risk.

The Rise of Vaping in Asia 

In Asia, vaping prevalence is on the rise. A recent global study from Biomed Central showed that the current prevalence of e-cigarettes vaping in Asia is at 11%, with the lifetime prevalence at 16%.

  • The study also found that the lifetime and current prevalence of e-cigarette vaping globally were 23% and 11% respectively. For women, these figures were 16% and 8%, and for men, they were 22% and 12%. 
  • Among people who had smoked traditional cigarettes in their lifetime, the current prevalence of e-cigarette use was 39%, and among current smokers, it was 43%.
  • The study also provided breakdowns by continent: for America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, the lifetime prevalence of e-cigarette use was 24%, 26%, 16%, and 25%, and the current prevalence was 10%, 14%, 11%, and 6% respectively.

The Legal Status of Vaping Across Asian Countries

Vaping regulations vary widely across Asia. In Japan, it is legal to vape and to sell vaping materials, except for any liquid containing nicotine​1​. 

Similarly, in Bhutan, Brunei, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkmenistan, and Turkey, vaping is legal to use, but illegal to sell​​. However, the Singaporean government has completely banned the use, purchase, and sale of e-cigarettes.

Nevertheless, the influx of illegal vapes in the market is worrisome. Most of these vapes have not undergone any form of testing before being sold, making their safety dubious.

High Amount of Metals Found in Highlighter Vapes

In “highlighter vapes,” designed to look like highlighter pens and appeal to young users, the amounts of metals found were significantly above safe exposure levels. These metals were found not only in the heating element, but also in the e-liquid itself.

In addition to the harmful metals, the lab tests also detected compounds called carbonyls at 10 times the level in legal vapes. 

These compounds break down into chemicals such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde when the e-liquid heats up. Some of these vapes had even higher carbonyl levels than cigarettes.

  • The BBC News report found that vapes confiscated from school pupils contained high levels of lead, nickel, and chromium. Testing revealed that children using them could be inhaling more than twice the daily safe amount of lead and nine times the safe amount of nickel. 
  • High levels of lead exposure in children can affect the central nervous system and brain development. The UK authorities found that the majority of vapes tested were illegal and had not undergone any kind of testing before manufacturers sold them.

Medical Professionals Provide Advice on Vapes

Healthcare professionals and regulators worldwide are expressing growing concerns about the potential health risks associated with vaping. 

Despite the wide array of regulations across Asian countries, one common concern remains: the alarming rise in illegal vapes that haven’t undergone safety testing. The presence of these vapes poses a serious health risk to users, a concern amplified by their increased accessibility and the absence of regulatory oversight. 

We urge everyone to heed the advice of healthcare professionals and remain informed about the potential health implications of vaping. The safety and well-being of the public is paramount, and it is our collective responsibility to make choices that support this.


  1. “Prevalence of e-cigarette vaping: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies”. Arch Public Health. Retrieved from: 
  2. “Countries Where Vaping is Banned or Restricted”. UPENDS. Retrieved from: 
  3. “Vapes from schools ‘contain dangerous levels of toxic metals’”. BBC News. Retrieved from: 

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