By: Sara Carbery

Kiwi teenager non-smokers top the tables for experimenting with e-cigarettes but few take up the habit, reports an international study published today.

In the review, undertaken on behalf of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Australian researchers have compared vaping use in teenagers across 13 developed countries.

Poland topped the table with the highest rate of youths currently using e-cigarettes (29.9 per cent), with New Zealand claiming the lowest rate at zero per cent, as no-one in the 99-person study reviewed said they were currently smoking e-cigarettes.

However New Zealand’s non-smoking youth topped the tables for experimenting with e-cigarettes, or ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems). Local studies of non-smokers averaged 14 per cent, compared with 4.2 per cent in the US, while experimental vaping among tobacco smoking teens was highest in Canada (71.9%) and lowest in Italy (29.9%).

The number of youths trying e-cigarettes at least once (‘ever use’) is on the rise in New Zealand, up from 7 per cent in 2012, to 20 per cent in 2014. The number of teens experimenting with vaping also rose in the US, Poland and Korea, dropped in Canada and Italy, and remained stable in the UK.

Consistent with previous reviews, the report found that smokers were more likely to use e-cigarettes than non-smokers. The prevalence of current e-cigarette use among tobacco smoking youth ranged from 57.4 per cent in Poland to 2.0 per cent in Greece, and from 13 per cent in Poland to zero per cent in Italy among non-smoking youth.

The authors did point out that, “While prevalence of current ENDS use was typically low among non-smokers, increasing use among this group may be a concern in light of recent longitudinal studies reporting a positive association between ENDS ever use and subsequent uptake of cigarette smoking at 12-month follow-up.”

They recommended that future studies should continue to monitor prevalence of e-cigarette use among youth, particularly among non-smokers, “to enable pooling and comparisons between countries”.

Note: The report identified a number of limitations of the review including the fact that ‘non-smokers’ included current non-smokers rather than only those who have never smoked. “While it is possible that individuals with previous nicotine dependence may have been included, estimates of tobacco use among youth indicate that the majority of non-smoking youth (>80%) have never smoked.”

It was also noted that the bulk of studies included in the review (93%) did not record whether the e-cigarettes used included nicotine and/or non-nicotine e-liquids. “This is an important distinction to consider in future studies of ENDS use in young people, given that concerns have been raised regarding the susceptibility of the adolescent brain to early exposure to nicotine, and the possibility that ENDS experimentation could lead to nicotine dependence in adulthood.”

Data from 36 surveys from 13 countries were included in the review, which was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

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