Australia’s vaping rates have tripled since 2019, highest in young people

In concerning news a new survey shows rates of current e-cigarette use and vaping in Australia have tripled since 2019 – from 2.5% to 7.0% of people.

The data comes from the results of the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS).

More than 21,000 people across Australia took part in the survey, produced by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), in 2022 and 2023.

“Vaping was most common among people aged 18–‍24, with current use increasing substantially between 2019 (5.3%) and 2022–‍2023 (21%),” says AIHW spokesperson Dr Gabrielle Phillips.

The proportion of all people who have used an e-cigarette at least once in their lifetime has also increased significantly to 19.8% from 11.3% in 2019.

But that number jumps in young adults aged 18­–24 to almost half (49%).

Episode 2 of the Cosmos: Debunks podcast series on vices, we learned that while we know about the long-term health impacts of smoking tobacco, the effect of vaping won’t be fully understood until decades down the line.

The 2022-2023 NDSHS was conducted before new regulations on vapes and e-cigarettes – including restriction on importation of vapes except for therapeutic purposes – came into effect in early 2024.

The report also provides insights into the use of other drugs including tobacco, alcohol, and illicit substances in Australia.

In promising news, the proportion of people who smoke daily continues to drop – from 24% in 1991 to 8.3% in 2022-2023 – while the proportion of those who have never smoked continues to increase from 49% in 1991 to 65% in 2022-2023.

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Australia, so it’s encouraging that we continue to see a decrease in the use of tobacco by people in Australia,’ says Phillips.

But Phillips says that, despite updated guidelines to reduce alcohol-related harms, the proportion of people in Australia who drink alcohol at risky levels has not changed since 2019.

Alcohol still remains the most commonly used drug in Australia, with 77% of Australians reporting they consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months.

And while almost half (47%) of Australians have used an illicit drug in their lifetime, about 1 in 5 (18%) have done so in the past 12 months.

This recent use of many illicit drugs, including cannabis and cocaine, has remained stable between 2019 and 2022-2023. However, from 2019 to 2022-2023:

  • Use of hallucinogens increased from 1.6% to 2.4%
  • Ketamine use increased from 0.9% to 1.4%
  • Ecstasy use decreased from 3.0% to 2.1%
  • Non-medical use of pain-relievers and opioids decreased from 2.7% to 2.2%.

Dr Stephen Bright, a Senior Lecturer in Addiction at Edith Cowan University, says the survey shows several interesting trends in drug use. 

“Australians continue to be one of the world’s highest consumers of cocaine, yet there is little public awareness about the use of this drug since it is perceived to be an upper-class drug despite the significant impact that the production of the drug and trafficking has on the South American rainforest and indigenous communities,” he says.

“Use of psychedelic drugs has significantly increased making them the third most popular illegal drugs in Australia after cannabis and cocaine. The increased popularity of psychedelic drugs is likely due to increased media hype regarding the potential for these drugs to be used to treat mental health conditions.”

To access free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs, phone the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline – 1800 250 015

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