One in four teens vapers have never smoked tobacco, study finds

Newstalk ZB / Emma Russell, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 23 Jan 2020, 11:45AM
Critics are becoming increasingly concerned that vaping is becoming a gateway into smoking. Photo / 123RF

One in four teens vapers have never smoked tobacco, study finds

Newstalk ZB / Emma Russell, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 23 Jan 2020, 11:45AM

One in four young teenagers who have tried vaping have never smoked tobacco, new research has found.

According to the latest University of Auckland survey, involving 27,083 year 10 students aged 14 to 15 years, a quarter of those who had at least puffed on an e-cigarette had never smoked tobacco.

Of that, about 175 teens had become daily users.

Vaping advocates say e-cigarettes are an effective way of helping smokers quit, but critics are becoming increasingly concerned it's having the opposite effect and is becoming a gateway into smoking.

Auckland Secondary School Principals' Association president Richard Dykes, of Glendowie College, said at the coal face he was seeing a significant amount of vaping among our young people.

"Literally at every interval we are confiscating vapes. It's a huge concern for us."

He said they had been waiting for legislation for the past two years and the clock was ticking.

"Frankly right now we have a wild west situation. The Government needs to regulate this. We can't wait."

Almost six months after the Ministry of Health urged the Government to act quickly on vaping legislation, still no announcement has been made.

In November, Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa said she was expecting to introduce legislation before Christmas.

Salesa said the process was technical, and she was going through various iterations to make sure the legislation covers all the areas agreed on in Cabinet.

At the time, Salesa said it's taken longer than she would have liked, but given the high level of concern around vaping products, the Government wants to get it right.

"I've already had many, many letters from parents, from principals, from teachers, who tell me that they are really worried, especially about their young people and children who are beginning to vape," she said.

Today, Salesa said the Government's message remains clear, vaping should be available for smokers who choose to utilise it as a quit tool whilst ensuring these nicotine products are not used, marketed or sold to our children and young people.

The Government is still working towards introducing a bill that strikes this balance to Parliament this year and that remains our goal, she said.

"Seeing this legislation introduced is a priority for me."

The latest study found that out of 27,083 year 10 students surveyed, 840 vaped daily. And 10,093 had tried at least one puff of an e-cigarette, up from 5633 in 2014.

Salesa said it showed the overwhelming majority of vapers were former smokers.

"It also shows that a minority of young people have tried vaping, but it hasn't stuck. And that's good news.

"However, vaping is not risk-free and I am concerned about any young people developing a taste for nicotine."

Lead author of the study, Associate Professor Dr Natalie Walker from the University of Auckland, said these findings were consistent with other national surveys and did not support the idea of a so-called youth vaping epidemic in New Zealand.

"Despite increases in experimentation, it is encouraging that daily use remains low, especially for non-smokers.

"In fact, we believe that e-cigarettes might be displacing smoking for young people. Concerns about youth vaping should be weighed against the possibility that e-cigarettes could decrease the risk of smoking initiation and support smoking youth to quit."

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) chairman Professor Robert Beaglehole said the findings were very encouraging as they showed that despite a lack of government oversight, youth vaping remains low, and largely confined to smokers.

"It is the smoke that kills, and without smoke vaping remains far less harmful than smoking.

"Encouraging existing smokers to switch could have substantial health gains. Of course, we do not want non-smokers, especially young people, to take up vaping, and this survey suggests that it is an unlikely scenario."