Vaping was once seen as a miracle solution to help people quit smoking, but now experts are raising concerns about its prevalence among young people.
The trend of vaping has been spreading rapidly and has become “absolutely everywhere”, with some young people using it as their first introduction to nicotine.
It doesn’t take much searching on TikTok to find school students across the country crammed in toilet blocks, or behind bushes between classes, mischievously vaping.
It takes even less searching to find unearth a heap of youth-orientated TikTok ads.
The rise in vaping among young people has led to an increase in combative rhetoric from health officials across the country.
New South Wales, education authorities are taking action to combat the problem of vaping in schools, which has become “unacceptable”.
In late 2022, The NSW health minister, Sarah Mitchell, announced a new punishment for children who use e-cigarettes, with ten-day suspensions now in place.
In South Australia, the public school system is expanding its efforts to combat vaping in schools by installing vape detector systems.
These systems, which cost between $15,000 to $25,000, have been given the green light by the state government.
“We know vaping is becoming an increasing issue among young people, and enabling schools to install vaping detectors can be part of the response – but the best approach is prevention by teaching students about vaping’s health impacts so they understand just how dangerous and addictive it really is,” said the South Australian Education Minister.
The trend of vaping has raised concerns about whether steps being taken to prevent its spread among young people are working.
Industry positions against vaping
A scathing op-ed from a leading insurer recently offered some intriguing insight, and called BS on the much-touted selling point of vaping to quit cigarettes.
Justin James, CEO of HIF, went as far as to call vaping a “fool’s paradise” as he weighed in in on the progress towards curbing the habit in Australia.
“If you look around in 2023, vaping is absolutely everywhere,” Mr James said.
“E-cigarettes are being touted as the miracle saviour to help people quit smoking, but I think they’re doing more harm than good. It’s clear to me that we need stricter regulations around vaping products because we know far too little about their safety and quality.”
Mr James also highlighted the growing black market for vaping products, which skirts the “prescription only” rules.
He called for reforms that mirror those for alcohol-pops in order to prevent children and adolescents from accessing vapes with lolly-like flavours and packaging.
“In our society, we love a quick fix, a shortcut, but unfortunately just like all things in life, you have to do the work to get the results, and quitting smoking is no different,” Mr James said.
“I’m happy to be proved wrong in 20 years’ time when we have proper research on the real effects of vaping, but until then I’ll maintain my stance that it’s a fool’s paradise and one we should not be supporting in Australia.”
Mr James suggested looking across the Bass Strait for inspiration, referring to the Tasmanian Tobacco Action Plan 2022-2026, which aims to end all sales of smoking products in the state and eventually end the commercial sale of cigarettes and tobacco by 2030.
Peak medical bodies position against vaping
The use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, has come under fire from several key Australian health organisations, including the Australian Medical Association, Cancer Council Australia, and the Australian Council on Smoking and Health.
These organisations argue that there is insufficient evidence to promote the use of e-cigarettes to quit smoking, increasing evidence of health harms, and that e-cigarettes are normalising the act of smoking and attracting young people.
In December 2022, the AMA voiced its strong support for Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler’s announcement that a “patchwork quilt” of tobacco-related laws, regulations, and court decisions would be streamlined into a single act of Parliament.
The Association said a failure to address “lax laws” had created the next generation of young people addicted to nicotine.
“It’s a terrible blight on the future health of these people and Australia can and should do better,” said AMA President Professor Steve Robson.
“We need to take action now to prevent further harm and ensure that future generations are protected from the dangers of nicotine addiction.”
E-cigarette usage has seen a surge among smokers and recent quitters in New South Wales, according to a new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
The study revealed that the proportion of people who reported using e-cigarettes had doubled from 7.2 per cent in 2016 to 14.3 per cent in 2020.
Researchers summarised that the findings challenged the notion that such products are only used by older smokers who find it hard to quit using other methods.
The study also found that the increase in vape use among young adult smokers and recent quitters in New South Wales poses a threat to public health.
They emphasised the need for better control of e-cigarette marketing, particularly on social media, to reduce usage among young people.
A separate study by Curtin University researchers, who tested the chemicals and toxicity of 52 flavoured e-liquids available for sale in Australia, has uncovered some concerning results.
The study found that while e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they contain and emit various harmful compounds, such as formaldehyde and acrolein, which can cause irreversible lung damage; propylene glycol, which is toxic to human cells; and nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm the developing adolescent brain.
The results of these studies call for stricter regulations on e-cigarette marketing and the chemicals used in e-liquids.
The lay of the land
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation has released a new report indicating a growing concern regarding e-cigarettes among young adults.
It’s figures showed that of the 18-24 year olds who have tried e-cigarettes, 74 per cent did so out of pure curiosity. The report also indicates that 14 per cent of 12-17 year olds in Australia have tried e-cigarettes, with 32 per cent having used them in the past month.
According to the troubling figures, students who vaped most commonly obtained their e-cigarettes from friends, siblings, or parents.
Only 12 per cent of students reported buying e-cigarettes themselves.
The Foundation also pointed out the role of social media in exposing young people to e-cigarette advertising and the use of tactics by companies to make e-cigarettes appear cool and fun through flavour choices.
“The advertising and promotion of vaping products is illegal in Australia, but companies can use other strategies to target youth,” says the Foundation.
“Social media has been found to play a role as both an information source and as a means of exposure to e-cigarette advertising in Australia.”
“The glamorisation and promotion of e-cigarettes to youth must be addressed to protect public health.”