New research shows that more than a third of New Zealand high school students have tried vaping even though nearly two-thirds of those doing so have never smoked cigarettes.

Vapes, or electronic cigarettes, are not recommended for non-smokers, as the long-term effects are not known, and vapes containing nicotine are likely to be addictive.

“Vaping is not as harmful as smoking, but it is not harmless. Taking up vaping is not a good idea for people who are not otherwise smokers, particularly young people,” says study co-author Dr Terry Fleming from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Health.

The study is the first in New Zealand to look at vaping in high school students of all ages. It found 65 percent of teenagers who had tried vaping reported they had never smoked cigarettes, as well as 48 percent of those who said they vaped regularly. Overall, 38 percent of teenagers reported they had tried vaping, 10 percent said they vaped regularly, and 6 percent vaped weekly or more often.

The research also shows vaping is relatively common for students in all school deciles, whereas smoking is now rare in higher decile schools.

“Vaping seems to appeal to a wider range of young people than smoking and unlike smoking it is more common in boys than girls,” says Dr Fleming.

Recently published data from another New Zealand study shows the long-term decline in smoking among Year 10 students that began in 2000 stalled from about 2015 and may even be reversing, particularly in Māori and low decile schools.

“When you put these findings together, it calls into question the idea that vaping is displacing smoking. The alternative possibility, that vaping is fuelling smoking, must be taken seriously by communities and policymakers,” says study co-author Associate Professor Terryann Clark from the University of Auckland.

Researchers say measures to protect youth, particularly Māori and disadvantaged youth, from both vaping and smoking harm are needed, such as limits on where vapes and tobacco can be sold and a ban on vaping advertising and sponsorship, including online and social media promotion.

The research is timely, as the Government is currently consulting on new vaping regulations announced earlier in the month.

“New Zealand has fewer restrictions on promoting vaping and on vape flavours than many other countries. Supporting smokers to step down to vaping and non-smokers to stay that way are both important—this is possible with good policy and leadership,” says Dr Fleming.

The research is part of the Youth19 survey, which aims to collect data on a range of issues affecting New Zealand youth. Further results from the survey will be available over the coming year. This survey is a collaboration between Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Auckland, the University of Otago, and AUT.

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