Vaping rates among Australian teenagers are rapidly increasing, with a new survey showing 26% have tried e-cigarettes, up from 10% only 3 years earlier.
Publishing the results in the Medical Journal of Australia, University of Sydney researchers surveyed more than 4,200 teenagers across 70 schools in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia about their e-cigarette use in 2022.
One in 5 students report vaping in the past 12 months, the paper finds.
One in 10 teens are current users. Around 6% are regular users, vaping on at least a weekly basis.
Lead author Dr Lauren Gardner, a research fellow at the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, says the results show “just how pervasive the problem is among young Australians”.
“We also found that boys and non-binary participants were more likely to vape than girls,” she says.
Gardner says rapidly increasing vaping rates among teens are likely driven by the deliberate design and marketing of e-cigarettes, using bright colours, fruity flavours and packaging.
“There’s been quite a strong social media presence as well, which is really no different to what was done with cigarettes in the past,” she adds.
Gardner notes that along with rapidly increasing rates of vaping among teenagers, Cancer Council research shows smoking rates are also rising.
That research shows around 13% of 14 – 17 year-olds are current smokers in 2023, up from around 3% in 2019. With duel use – both vaping and smoking – most common among younger age groups (around 11% of 14 – 17 year-olds smoke both vapes and cigarettes).
Garnder says while more research is needed on the relationship between vaping and smoking, “we don’t want young people vaping or smoking”.
“So, we really need effective prevention to address both of those issues before we undo all of those decades of successful tobacco control in Australia.”
Many of the longer term health effects of e-cigarette use are still unknown, but there is clinical evidence of health problems which include lung injury, poisonings and burns, she says.
This week 4,907 e-cigarettes were seized by South Australian health authorities, almost all containing nicotine, according to ABC reports. The SA Government action follows policy reforms designed to tackle vaping announced by the Federal Health Minister in May.
Gardner says a multi-faceted approach is needed to address the problem including roles for governments, GPs, healthcare providers, schools and parents.
She is working on a new school-based intervention program aimed at prevention. The program uses cartoon storyboards to engage and educate students with teacher-led classroom activities over a four week period, and is currently being evaluated under a randomised controlled trial involving about 5,000 students.
“We really need to be arming our young people with the knowledge and skills to make positive decisions for their health themselves,” she says.