As vaping numbers rise researcher says it's imposing 'terrible burden' on young people

"More young people who have never smoked are vaping."
"More young people who have never smoked are vaping." Photo credit: Image - Getty Images


A leading researcher into achieving smokefree targets says more needs to be done to protect young people from the 'terrible burden' imposed by vaping addiction.

University of Otago professor Janet Hoek, who was recently awarded the 2022 Critic and Conscience of Society Award, says young people are ill-equipped to anticipate the consequences of vaping and a more proactive approach is needed to deal with the issue.

Her comments come as latest figures indicate vaping is on the rise.

The country's most recent health survey shows monthly use of vaping products amongst 15-17 year olds has more than tripled in three years.

"We have a really crucial balance that we need to strike between helping people who tried to quit smoking, haven't been able to succeed and could benefit from switching to vaping, while at the same time ensuring that young people who have never smoked, don't start vaping," she told Morning Report.

"The data that we're getting from surveys of young people suggest that more and more young people who have never smoked are vaping, and we really need to more proactive in managing that problem."

Hoek said the insidious nature of the vaping problem had much to do with initial youth marketing that attracted young people to the products.

"Prior to the legislation that came into effect in late 2020 we had very aggressive marketing that targeted young people, so had lots of sponsorship of musical events, giveaways, a lot of promotions that were on social media platforms and unfortunately some of those are still continuing," she said.

"The product was promoted very much as a consumer lifestyle, slick sophisticated device. So it's not at all surprising that it's really appealed to young people."

From August 2021, new legislation compelled general retailers - dairies, supermarkets and service stations - across the country to only be allowed to sell three vape flavours - mint, menthol, or tobacco.

Although the more dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes were not present in vaping products, there was wider reasons for concern.

"We all accept vaping is less harmful than smoking, but that's a pretty low benchmark to set," Hoek said.

"So it's a mistake to think to think vaping is harmless. It's also a mistake to focus on the physical harms of vaping. We know that the burden of addiction and dependence, the fact that young people have to structure their days and often wake-up at night to vap, it's been imposed as an incredible burden on the way in which they can live their lives.

"So I think it's really important that young people who are never able to anticipate that terrible burden have some protection from it."