Jeremy Lasek – PHAA
It’s now just over 100 days since Australia introduced strict new laws which mean you can no longer buy nicotine vaping products without a doctor’s prescription.
Apart from pharmacies dispensing nicotine vaping to patients with a prescription, it’s illegal for any other Australian retailers, including vape stores, to sell nicotine vaping products.
This follows many years of campaigning from like-minded organisations, including the Public Health Association of Australia, the Cancer Council, Alcohol and Drug Foundation, and Lung Foundation Australia.
The new law came after a significant increase in the use of nicotine vaping products by young people in Australia and many other countries. The federal health department reported e-cigarette use by young people in Australia had taken off, increasing by 96% between 2015 and 2019.
Vaping among young Australians
It was this alarming increase in vaping among young Australians which most troubled our lawmakers.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) note key evidence-based statistics on e-cigarette use in young people:
Citing an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, the ADF noted, “Of those aged 18-24, nearly 2 in 3 (64%) current smokers and 1 in 5 (20%) of non-smokers reported having tried e-cigarettes, compared to 49% and 13.6% in 2016. Of those young adults aged 18-24 who tried e-cigarettes, the majority (74%) said they did so out of curiosity.”
Sourced from a Cancer Council Victoria report, the ADF noted that, for Australian teenagers aged 12-17 years, around 14% have ever tried an e-cigarette, “with around 32% of these students having used one in the past month. Students who had vaped most commonly reported getting the last e-cigarette they had used from friends (63%), siblings (8%) or parents (7%). Around 12% of students reported buying an e-cigarette themselves.”
The Kiwi experience
It’s a similar story across the ditch, where a new report published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health (ANZJPH) has shown that
“A significant proportion of New Zealand adolescents, many of whom have never smoked, use nicotine-containing e-cigarettes regularly.”
The report titled ‘New Zealand Youth19 survey: vaping has wider appeal than smoking in secondary school students, and most use nicotine-containing e-cigarettes’ was based on a survey in 2019, the first New Zealand study to investigate smoking and vaping in high school students across the full adolescent age range of 13 to 18 years old. The data was collected as part of a comprehensive youth health survey (Youth19) involving 7,721 participants from 49 different New Zealand schools.
Other key findings from the research and ANZJPH report:
“We found vaping was two to three times more prevalent than smoking in secondary school students. Ethnic, gender and socioeconomic patterning for vaping was different from smoking. About 85% of secondary students had never smoked a cigarette, and 81% of those who had used e-cigarettes reported they did not smoke when they first tried vaping.
“Never-smokers made up about two-thirds of ‘ever’-vapers, half of ‘regular’ vapers and one-third of ‘weekly’ vapers. The use of e-cigarettes containing nicotine was the norm, with about 80% of regular and 90% of weekly vapers reporting sometimes or always using nicotine. There was little evidence of vaping acting as a gateway to smoking.”
Regularity of vaping
“Vaping was 2-3 times more prevalent than smoking, with 10% of students vaping regularly (monthly or more often), and 6% weekly or more often, compared with 4% and 2%, respectively, for tobacco smoking. Nicotine-containing e-cigarettes were sometimes or always used by 80% of regular and 90% of weekly vapers. Regular and weekly smoking was rare in low deprivation (affluent) areas, whereas regular and weekly vaping prevalence was similar across the socioeconomic spectrum. More than 80% of ever-vapers (N=2732) reported they were non-smokers when they first vaped, and 49% of regular vapers (N=718) had never smoked.
“Vaping was approximately 2–3 times more prevalent than smoking at all levels of use: ever, regular, and weekly.” “About 38% of students reported ever vaping, 10% reported regular vaping, and 6% reported vaping weekly or more often. The respective figures for tobacco smoking were 15%, 4% and 2%.
“The proportion who reported both smoking and vaping (i.e. dual use) was 2% for regular and 1% for weekly dual use. Dual use among Māori was double that of the general population.
“Experimentation with vaping often began at a young age with 22% of Year 9 students (13–14 years) reporting they had tried vaping. Only 6% of this age group had tried smoking.
“Vaping was more common among smokers than non-smokers: 89% of ever-smokers had tried vaping, compared with 29% of never-smokers.” Yet, never-smokers made up the vast majority (85%) of the sample, and therefore accounted for a significant proportion of vapers. Based on regional estimates, two-thirds (66%) of ever-vapers, nearly half (49%) of regular vapers, and about one-third (34%) of weekly vapers reported they had never smoked.”
“Our findings challenge the idea that youth vaping is largely confined to existing smokers and suggest greater weight should be given to protecting young people from vaping harm (as well as smoking harm, which remains the primary concern).
“Legislation introduced in late 2020 now prohibits the sale of vaping products to those aged under 18 and most forms of e-cigarette marketing in New Zealand. These measures will go some way towards protecting young people, although we note that online marketing appears to have continued despite the ban.
“We welcome the proposal in the draft Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan [launched in December 2021] . . . to invest in social marketing campaigns aimed at ‘supporting young people to stay smokefree and vapefree’. We note that prevention campaigns need to be targeted to the appropriate age group, which our findings show is younger for vaping than for smoking.”
Footnote: The ANZJPH article, ‘New Zealand Youth19 survey: vaping has wider appeal than smoking in secondary school students, and most use nicotine-containing e-cigarettes’ was jointly authored by Jude Ball, Theresa Fleming, Bradley Drayton, Kylie Sutcliffe, Sonia Lewycka and Terryann C. Clark
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