School students in Western Australia are the target of a new scare campaign exposing the serious harms of vaping.
The state government on Friday launched the education initiative in an effort to curb the number of students smoking e-cigarettes, including on school grounds.
Experts worry the growing use of vapes risks introducing a new generation to smoking, with many young people unaware of the toxic chemicals they could be inhaling.
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It is illegal to buy, possess or use nicotine for vaping without a prescription from a doctor. Hefty fines apply.
Despite this, Aussies can easily find nicotine vaping products and accessories in shops across the country. Authorities have seized millions of dollars worth of illegal nicotine e-cigarettes in recent years.
School principal Ryan, who did not give his last name, said teachers are witnessing students vaping at school daily.
“It’s a common issue among schools,” he said.
He said some students were “almost selling on commission” to other students in class after buying in bulk from vape stores and vendors.
“We see it daily, there are kids selling vapes to others, and they get $20 per vape they sell as cash,” he told radio 6PR.
The new anti-vaping education toolkit – a joint effort between the education and health departments – also aims to alert and better inform parents and schools about ways to reduce vaping among young people and increase vaping education.
A digital campaign is set to be rolled out next to highlight the dangers of vaping for teenagers.
The Department of Health also warned it is cracking down on suppliers and ramping up surveillance for those illegally selling vapes.
The hidden cost
Recent research shows young people are starting vaping at alarming rates, with more than one in 10 NSW people aged 16-24 saying they vaped in 2021 – twice the rate the year before.
Education Minister Sue Ellery said vaping was a growing concern for parents and school communities.
“E-cigarettes and vapes are designed to appeal to young people, coming in colourful packaging and a huge variety of flavours from gummy bears and bubble gum, to fruits such as watermelon and peach. They are also easy to conceal,” she said.
Ellery warned there were many misconceptions around vaping that young people were falling victim to, including that it produces harmless water vapour, is non-addictive and doesn’t contain nicotine.
“Some of the hazardous substances found in e-cigarette liquids and the aerosol mist produced by e-cigarettes are known to cause damage to human cells and DNA, and can cause cancer,” Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson added.
Expert concerns echo this, with a major review by Australian National University researchers highlighting the vaping-related health impacts to date.
“The evidence shows e-cigarettes carry significant harms. Nicotine is a key ingredient and one of the most addictive substances known,” lead author Emily Banks said.
The review found vaping increases the risk of a range of several adverse health outcomes – particularly in youth – including smoking uptake, addiction, poisoning, seizures, trauma and burns and lung injury.
“There are myths targeting young people; the false ideas that vapes wouldn’t be widely available if they were dangerous and ‘it’s just water vapour’,” she said.
“Vapes deliver hundreds of chemicals – some of them known to be toxic and many others with unknown effects.”
Anyone caught acquiring, possessing or using liquid nicotine without a relevant doctor’s prescription to help quit smoking face hefty penalties, including:
- ACT: $30,000 max, two years imprisonment or both
- WA: $45,000
- VIC: $15,546 max
- SA: $10,000 max
- NT: $15,400 max or 12 months imprisonment
- QLD: $9752 max
- NSW: $1100 max
- TAS: $7850 or up to two years imprisonment