“Vaping is very common in my circle of friends and the people who I hang around with.”
By Cancer Council NSW
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 the decades, the recent rise of e-cigarettes (vapes) risks undermining this progress. We asked some university students to share their own experiences of buying and using vapes, with some eye-opening results.
Vapes are easily accessible from a range of sources
Corner shops, petrol stations, social media, friends, club bathrooms, online – the students we interviewed made it clear that young people can buy vapes from almost anywhere.
“It’s really easy to walk in somewhere and get [vapes] that way. Especially if you pay with cash, they don’t care…because they can’t be traced.”
The NSW Government has previously attempted to limit access by banning the sale of vapes containing nicotine unless obtained with a doctor’s prescription, regulating advertising, and preventing use in public spaces – but it’s clear that these initiatives aren’t working.
“It’s even easier to access vapes here than in the US, and it’s not even fully illegal in the US like it is here,” one student told us.
“Anyone you can ask will have a vape,” another added. “They’re everywhere now.”
“I started young and now I’m too far gone.”
While some of the students we spoke to didn’t enjoy the effects of vaping – one recalled having an immediate coughing fit and dizziness after inhaling – they noted that for many, vaping is an addictive habit.
“It’s a fun little thing you do when you’re out,” said one student, “but now people are actually getting addicted, which is concerning.”
Another student explained that some of her peers are so desperate to vape that they’ll leave multiple times during class so they can vape in the bathroom. “One kid had some kind of reaction to it, and they had to call the ambulance and take him out of the bathroom,” she recalled.
Young people know there are health impacts – but is it enough to stop them?
While the students had concerns about the health impacts of vaping – suggesting it causes a range of symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, coughing and gum disease – worryingly, many of them felt that they wouldn’t be affected.
Others felt that peer pressure outweighs the risks. “Vaping is definitely bad for you – but everyone does it. I know that people feel pressured,” one student commented.
The tactics used to market vapes – such as social media promotion and flavoured products – suggest that tobacco companies are targeting younger people, a concern which was echoed by some of the students. “I am concerned that it’s targeted towards younger demographics… They can develop an addiction quite early and that can become harmful.”
“I don’t want my generation to die out.”
We won’t see the long-term health impacts of vaping for many years to come – but what’s clear is that we need stronger laws in place now so that we can protect our children, young people, and future generations to come.