Watermelon soda, sherbet berry grape, blue kiwi crush – they all sound harmless but for the increasing number of young people using vapes with names like these, the long-term effects are not known, says Paediatric Respiratory Specialist Associate Professor Philip Pattemore.
“While 31 May is World Smokefree Day, it would be good if this could be World Smokefree and Vapefree Day.”
“An alarming number of high school students are trying or taking up vaping because they’ve heard it’s safe and they’re curious. But your lungs are designed to breathe air, not smoke or vape. There is no safety data for e-cigarettes and there is evidence of harm,” says Professor Pattemore. “Vaping is a step towards quitting for some, and is safer than smoking, but only in the sense that a small crocodile is safer than a large crocodile.”
Recent studies suggest that while most adults vape to try to reduce or give up smoking, most teenagers vape for curiosity, to follow peers, and are enticed by the flavours.
“Nearly all teenagers use nicotine-containing vapes, often at very high doses, which I think plays right back into the tobacco companies’ hands, because nicotine is the addictive substance, their Ring of Power, that keeps people using their products for a lifetime, or for very long periods. This means young people’s lungs may get repetitive and sustained exposure to any other ingredients, such as heavy metals, that go along with the nicotine,” he says.
The ASH Year 10 snapshot survey shows from 2019 to 2021 daily vaping among teens has tripled, from 3.1% to 9.6%.
The biggest increase is among MÄori students – for whom daily vaping increased from 5.9% in 2019 to 19.1% in 2021. Daily vaping for Pacific students increased from 3.9% to 10.6%. Daily vaping for NZ European students increased from 2.6% to 7.8%. Asian students still have the lowest daily use at 2.4%. The figures show that vaping rates are on top of the smoking rates, used by many non-smokers, and not simply displacing smoking.
Professor Pattemore says, “These statistics are concerning and we urgently need to prevent young people from taking up e-cigarettes, particularly e-cigarettes that contain nicotine.”
“My Paediatric Society colleagues and other Child and Youth Health professionals are concerned at the secondary impacts of vaping such as when symptoms of nicotine withdrawal affects learning and behaviour.”
The new Vaping Amendment Act which came into force in November, aims to make e-cigarettes less appealing and available to teens, by banning advertising, toughening up the R18 sales limit and restricting flavours sold outside specialist vape shops – such as at dairies and supermarkets – to tobacco, menthol and mint.
“The Act is a step in the right direction,” says Professor Pattemore, “but young people can still get access to vape products from peers, family, or online. We also need to regulate vaping in public venues, cars and public vehicles in the same way as cigarettes, so they do not have role-modelling street appeal, regulate flavours in e-cigarettes that appeal to young people, and regulate devices that are marketed to appeal to young people like those that resemble a USB drive.”
“The rates of young people vaping is unacceptable and a potential disruptor of the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goals. It doesn’t make sense to have cigarette smokers replaced by a new generation of nicotine-addicted people who remain susceptible to tobacco company marketing and products, and a potential lifetime exposure to harmful substances.”