Calls for Government to do more to curb youth vaping addiction following Australia's crackdown

The New Zealand Government has indicated it won't be following our friends across the ditch as they tighten the reins on vaping.

But as youth vaping continues to be a worrying problem for schools, one principal is questioning why the Government isn't tightening the laws around it.

Australia's proposed tightened e-cigarette laws announced on Tuesday included banning all disposable vapes and the import of non-prescription vapes. It follows Australia classifying all nicotine vaping products as prescription only from October 2021.

Following Australia's announcement, Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said the move isn't something the Government could do this term because it would require legislative change.

But she is looking at other proposals to beef up restrictions. 

"We need to get the right balance between vapes being available as a tool to support people to quit and making sure young people don't vape and we haven't got that balance right at the moment."

But Auckland Grammar School principal Tim O'Connor believes New Zealand should absolutely be following in Australia's footsteps.

O'Connor told AM co-host Laura Tupou on Wednesday, the problem of vaping in schools had not gone away. He said colleagues had told him the same number of students are vaping, if not more - and the consequences are startling.

"We are seeing addiction. The young men we are standing down for vaping, as they return about one in two would admit quite freely and openly that they're addicted to vaping," O'Connor said.

He said they are also seeing students in year 9 and 10 who are trying vaping.

"The Harvard and Yale research has actually shown that now vaping for teenagers is a gateway for cigarette smoking and on to illegal drug use - that concerns us," O'Connor said.

Auckland Grammar School principal Tim O'Connor.
Auckland Grammar School principal Tim O'Connor. Photo credit: AM

Auckland Grammar School asked over 12 months ago for the vaping age restriction to be raised to 21 and for anyone under the age of 21 for it to be prescription only, O'Connor said.

Action for Smokefree 2025 director Ben Youdan agrees, telling AM that would be a good approach to take, but warns going as far as Australia's motions can raise problems. 

He said the issue with taking a prescription-only approach is it forces people to get their vapes off the black market, which is likely to be more harmful. Youdan also said there would likely be huge access problems for people most in need.

"We can't just get rid of it, unfortunately," he said.

Youdan noted vaping has contributed to an "unprecedented" decline in adult smoking rates.

According to the most recent New Zealand Health Survey, in 2021/22 daily smoking rates have continued to decrease, down to 8 percent from 9.4 percent the year before, however, vaping has increased from 6.2 percent to 8.3 percent.

Daily vaping/e-cigarette use was highest among those aged 18–24 years (22.9 percent), Māori (17.6 percent) and Pacific peoples (16.8 percent).

"The concern here was that, until last year, we had absolutely no restrictions on vaping and the rapid rise in youth vaping was at a time when the Government just wasn't acting on it," Youdan said.

He said last year, following the implementation of new vaping regulations, for the first time there was a decrease in the number of youths vaping in New Zealand.

"I certainly hope that's a beginning of a trend," Youdan said.