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New Zealand Health Survey data showed daily use of vapes by 15- to 17-year-olds increased from 1.7% in 2018-19 to 5.8% in 2020-21, and monthly use rose from 3.5% to 5.8%.
The same patterns were evident among those aged 18-24, where daily use increased from 4.5% to 15.3%, and monthly use rose from 8.8% to 21.1%.
The 2021 ASH year 10 survey found daily vaping among those aged 14-15 more than tripled in two years, from 3.1% in 2019 to 9.6% last year.
University of Otago (Wellington) Aspire 2025 Research Centre co-director Prof Janet Hoek said regulatory loopholes around vaping were contributing to the increases.
"These large increases show vaping is supplementing, not displacing, smoking and many more young people have become dependent on nicotine," she said.
More regulation was needed to combat social media marketing, which not only targeted young people but provided incentives for them to create and share content and refer friends for promotional offers, Prof Hoek said.
"We need a better balance between supporting people who smoke to switch to a less harmful alternative, while also protecting young people from products that do not support their wellbeing."
She also highlighted how small convenience stores were subdividing their premises to create specialist vape retail outlets.
This tactic circumvented New Zealand’s Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Amendment Act 2020, which imposed flavour restrictions on the stores and allowed them to sell only tobacco, menthol and mint flavoured e-liquids, Prof Hoek said.
"Specialist vape stores may sell all flavours. By reinventing themselves as both convenience stores and specialist vape outlets, dairies are ensuring diverse, youth-oriented flavours such as bubble-gum, cookies & cream and dragon’s milk remain in the heart of family neighbourhoods."
She wanted to see vaping products removed from small convenience stores so they were sold only by retailers that could offer cessation advice and were not frequented by young people in the way dairies were, Prof Hoek said.