Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in our community, with smoking causing at least 16 cancers and 20% of cancer deaths in NSW. Although tobacco use has declined in Australia over recent decades, the recent rise of e-cigarette use (vaping) risks undermining this progress.
Because it’s still so new, e-cigarette use among young people in Australia is still not well understood. To address this gap, Cancer Council NSW researchers have launched Generation Vape – a national level research project that’s the first of its kind.
In Generation Vape, our researchers aim to examine awareness, perception, attitudes, knowledge and behaviours around e-cigarettes; they hope to inform future advocacy and policy approaches.
We’re excited to share the project’s early findings.
Addiction to vaping among young people is growing
Cancer Council NSW Ambassador Ruby Ellis’s experience reflects a growing trend among young people and vaping. Ruby has been vaping for almost three years and has been trying to quit for nine months. She reflects, “I knew that it was addictive when I first started vaping, but you don’t really think about it too much. You don’t fully realise what addicted means or how addictive it is until you become hooked”.
Ruby is just one of the many young people who now vape, describing it as being everywhere at all times – “all the time, it’s everywhere you go. When somebody has a cup of coffee, or when they’re studying, or in the toilets during breaks”.
Individuals aged over 18 are finding it easier to access vapes
As it stands, vapes should only be legally available to individuals with a valid doctor’s prescription who feel it will help them quit smoking.
However, young people are still easily accessing these products. Nearly 80% of teenage users who took part in our research considered it ‘easy’ to access a vape, showing that young people in NSW can readily access harmful vaping products.
Ruby states, “it’s always easy to get one, you just go into a shop and ask for a vape and they give it to you”.
Anita Dessaix, a co-author of the study and chair of Cancer Council’s Public Health
Committee puts it this way: “Whichever way teenagers obtain e-cigarettes, they are all illegal, yet it’s happening under the noses of federal and state authorities”.
Government intervention is crucial to solving the emerging crisis
Restricting vape use is a public health priority and Cancer Council NSW is calling on the government to protect children and young people from nicotine addiction by phasing out the retail sale of apparent “non-nicotine” e-cigarettes and ensure nicotine containing e-cigarettes can strictly only be accessed by people with a prescription.
Ms Dessaix noted that more needs to be done urgently to effectively enforce regulations and protect all young Australians from the harms of e-cigarettes.
“All Australian governments say they’re committed to ensuring e-cigarettes are only accessed by smokers with a prescription trying to quit – yet a crisis in youth e-cigarette use is unfolding in plain view”, Ms Dessaix said.
She added, “unless all governments, federal, state and territory, urgently crack down on the illegal importation and retail and wholesale sale of e-cigarettes and their widespread illegal use in young adults, teenage vaping will go from emergency to crisis.”