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Alarming results from NZ’s biggest ever youth vaping survey

Results of a major survey looking at the vaping habits of secondary school students have been released today (Monday 1 November), with alarming findings.

The survey, initiated by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation (ARFNZ) in partnership with the Secondary Principals’ Association of NZ (SPANZ), was carried out in response to growing concerns raised by parents, teachers and schools around the epidemic of teen vaping. Over 19,000 students in years 9-13 were asked about their vaping and smoking habits. Participation was anonymous and voluntary.

The results show a marked increase in vaping rates compared with surveys which collected data two years ago,” says Letitia Harding, Chief Executive of ARFNZ and co-author of the report. “While vapes can be a useful tool to help adults quit smoking when combined with behavioural support, this survey makes it clear that many young people are picking up high nicotine vapes without ever having smoked a cigarette, and swiftly becoming addicted to nicotine.

“It’s also really worrying how easily young people are accessing vapes, with the majority buying their vapes at dairies. Given that sale to under-18s is prohibited, and the vast majority of students surveyed are under 18, this is really concerning.”

The survey found that:

– 26% of students reported vaping and 15% reported smoking cigarettes in the past week

– Nearly 20% of students are vaping daily or several times a day, the majority with high nicotine doses

– Over half of those vaping were vaping more frequently and at higher nicotine doses than last year.

Harding hopes the recent regulations around limiting flavours that can be sold by general retailers such as dairies will help to curb this trend.

ARFNZ runs the vaping education website Don’t Get Sucked In (DGSI), which informs and educates young people about the risks of vaping and encourages them not to try it in the first place. The site has seen a surge in page hits and new users this year, as students, schools and parents, both here in Aotearoa New Zealand and in Australia, search for reliable information on vaping and e-cigarettes.

“Education is so important, and DGSI is a vital part of that,” says Letitia. Professor Scott Harding, cardiologist and co-author of the report, agrees. “We are seeing new evidence emerge all the time about the harms caused by e-cigarettes,” he says. “While they might be less harmful than combustible cigarettes, they still expose users to toxic substances that have been shown to adversely affect the heart and lungs.”

There are also specific risks for adolescents, whose brains and bodies are still developing. “While vaping is often perceived as harmless by young people, there is increasing evidence showing significant health risks,” says paediatric respiratory physician and co-author Professor Philip Pattemore. “For example, vaping with nicotine has been consistently associated with depression, ADHD and conduct disorders in adolescents, and nicotine exposure has been shown to impact learning and memory.”

ARFNZ has made several recommendations to curb the rise in teen vaping, including limiting the nicotine content in vaping products to a maximum of 20mg in line with the EU directive 2014/40; raising the legal age to purchase vapes to 21 years; and banning in-front-of-store window advertising and product display by retailers. They also recommend preventing the sale of vaping products within a 1km radius of schools. 

Heather Barker Vermeer

Heather has worked as a journalist, writer and editor in England and Aotearoa New Zealand for over 20 years. She fell in love with words when she received a 'Speak & Spell' tech toy for Christmas in 1984.
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