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It was not that many years ago that vaping was being hailed as a relatively harmless replacement for smoking traditional cigarettes. This fallacy has proved emphatically false.
In fact, the mixed messages — encouraged by commercial interests — allowed vaping to circumvent stricter control and encouraged its use for too long.
Cigarette smoking rates have slipped and slid, especially among teens.
Vaping, by contrast, has become the school-age forbidden fruit of choice.
The number of young people being sucked in by the habit has increased rapidly. Schools are struggling to respond.
University of Otago Prof Janet Hoek said the large increases show vaping is supplementing, not displacing smoking.
Many more young people have become dependent on nicotine.
Research showed one in five year 10 pupils were regularly vaping. The same pattern of increases was found through to 24-year-olds.
The “epidemic” of vaping was a trend seen in the United States. New Zealand was almost bound to follow.
This country passed laws in 2020 to regulate and restrict vaping, including banning the sale of products to those under 18.
It is no surprise, however, that the under-18s still seem to have the means, through others, to procure plenty of products — just as they do for alcohol, cigarettes, or other restricted substances.
New Zealand was too slow to respond, and the horse bolted.
Further, the laws have proved insufficient. More regulation will be required to, at least, ameliorate availability.
Social media is again a villain. Prof Hoek said its advertising not only targeted young people but provided incentives for them to create and share content and refer friends for promotional offers.
Small convenience shops were subdividing to create specialist vape outlets. This allowed them to circumvent those 2020 laws which imposed flavour restrictions that limited them to selling tobacco, menthol and mint-flavoured e-liquids. Specialist stores could sell the likes of bubble gum, cookies & cream and dragon’s milk.
Prof Hoek said vaping products should not be available from small convenience stores in neighbourhoods.
They should only be sold by retailers that could offer cessation advice.
Columba College in Dunedin has taken an initiative to install hidden detectors in bathrooms after rising concerns about pupils inhaling addictive nicotine in a propylene glycol/vegetable glycerin mist.
The dangers of vaping are highlighted in health classes and schools are doing their best to limit use. But they are going to need all the support they can get as vaping spreads.
The Life Education Trust says schools are crying out for help. They are having to deal with pupils with serious nicotine dependency. Some are ingesting the equivalent of one and a-half packets of cigarettes worth a day.
Society needs to shun vaping in the way it has smoking. Rather than being an alluring forbidden sweet fruit, it needs to be seen as something rotten.
While it remains clear the effects of smoking are worse, the drawbacks of vaping are becoming clearer all the time.
A recent major review, conducted by Australian National University researchers, is expressly damming.
Dr Paul Grogan, from the University of Sydney’s The Daffodil Centre and Prof Guy Marks, a respiratory medicine specialist, writing in The Conversation, say the review reflects escalating use of e-cigarettes in school-age children, early warning signs of increased smoking rates in young Australians, and direct health harms of vaping in all ages.
The review found conclusive clinical evidence e-cigarettes cause acute (short-term) lung injury, poisoning, burns, and seizures, and their use leads to addiction. Also, non-users could be harmed by the airborne particles.
Those who vape proved more likely to go on to traditional smoking, and vaping as a smoking cessation tool was limited.
Vaping could also be followed by former smokers relapsing.
We gave insufficient heed to vaping warning signs. Now, authorities and society must attempt to catch up. For a start, any ambiguity over vaping benefits must be squashed.