Collaborate Against Cancer28 Sep 2022

E-cigarettes “easy” for New South Wales teens to obtain illegally, study confirms

Vaping is at a crisis point and governments must unite to crack down on the illegal importation and retail and wholesale sale of e-cigarettes.

Close-Up Of Person Smoking
Photo Credit: Akn Can _enol / EyeEm via Getty Images.

Nearly 80 per cent of teenagers in New South Wales who have vaped found it “easy” to access e-cigarettes from multiple illegal sources, according to new Australian-first research published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

The Generation Vape study, led by Cancer Council NSW in partnership with the Daffodil Centre and University of Sydney and supported by Minderoo Foundation, is the leading Australian study to survey teenagers about their experiences and perceptions of e-cigarettes, or vapes.

It found:

  • 70 per cent of teenage e-cigarette users obtained the products freely from an individual while 30 per cent purchased it themselves, either from a friend or from commercial retail outlets such as convenience stores and tobacconists.
  • Teens are purchasing vapes through social media, at vape stores and on websites.
  • Teens say flavour was the main factor driving product choice.

Anita Dessaix, a co-author of the study and chair of Cancer Council’s Public Health Committee, said the findings showed government controls aimed at protecting young people from e-cigarettes were failing.

“Whichever way teenagers obtain e-cigarettes, they are all illegal, yet it’s happening under the noses of federal and state authorities,” Ms Dessaix said.

“All Australian governments say they’re committed to ensuring e-cigarettes are only accessed by smokers with a prescription trying to quit — yet a crisis in youth e-cigarette use is unfolding in plain view.

“Unless all governments, federal, state and territory, urgently crack down on the illegal importation and retail and wholesale sale of e-cigarettes and their widespread illegal use in young adults, teenage vaping will go from emergency to crisis.”

The study’s chief investigator, Associate Professor Becky Freeman from the University of Sydney, said the findings reflect how e-cigarettes are made and promoted for a teenage market.

“The vapes preferred by teenagers come in a wide range of flavours tailored for kids, such as desserts, energy drinks, and bubble gum,” A/Professor Freeman said.

“They’re cheap, disposable, easy to use and access, and contain nicotine.”

She said the results showed that vaping is normalised for teenagers — despite product manufacturers and lobbyists claiming they are smoking cessation aids for adults.

“Among the teens surveyed, 32 per cent had ever vaped at least a few puffs of a vape. Of those who have vaped, more than half had never previously smoked.” A/Prof Freeman said.

Ms Dessaix noted that more needs to be urgently done to effectively enforce regulations and protect all young Australians from the harms of e-cigarettes.

“The federal government must act to stop the unlawful import of e-cigarettes at the border and state and territory governments need to crack down hard on retailers who are openly and illegally selling nicotine e-cigarettes without a valid prescription,” Ms Dessaix said.

“The Australian National University’s study on e-cigarettes, which is the most comprehensive evidence review published anywhere in the world to date, found that e-cigarette use in non-smokers tripled the risk of smoking uptake compared with non-smokers who don’t vape.

“Unless governments urgently enforce laws designed to ensure e-cigarettes are only accessed by individuals trying to quit smoking, we may see the unimaginable occur — youth smoking rates in Australia increasing.”

Tess Howard, who heads the Cancer Prevention program for Minderoo Foundation’s Collaborate Against Cancer initiative, said Minderoo Foundation was determined to help prevent a new generation of Australians becoming addicted to nicotine.

“Minderoo is proud to support the Generation Vape study and we are firmly focused on helping to debunk the dangerous myth that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking, as peddled by Big Tobacco,” Ms Howard said.

“Due to the presence of many chemicals which have unknown effects on respiratory health, vaping is incredibly harmful and it’s also a gateway to smoking and serious disease.”

Minderoo Foundation
by Minderoo Foundation

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.

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