A national survey has found that daily smoking among Year 10 students is just 1.3%, down from 2% two years ago, while the numbers vaping have risen from 3.1% to 9.6% in the same period.
While welcoming the smoking decline, the findings of the Action on Smoking and Health Year 10 Snapshot Survey were bittersweet when considering the vaping gains. Letitia Harding, Chief Executive of Asthma and Respiratory Foundation New Zealand said, “This is good news, and the Foundation fully supports all progress toward New Zealand’s Smokefree 2025 goals.
“However, the steep rise in daily vaping in this group, from 3.1% in 2019 to 9.6% in 2021, is of great concern.
“This dramatic increase shows that vaping isn’t just replacing smoking, as we didn’t start off with 10% of Year 10s smoking daily when vaping was introduced. It is unclear how much vaping has contributed to the decline in smoking – if vaping was the breakthrough intervention, we would have expected to see a sharp decline from when vaping hit the markets, which isn’t evident in the data.”
ARFNZ says the addictiveness of nicotine in vapes is the real issue, and the ‘experimentation’ of Year 10 students reporting ever trying vaping, which increased from 37.3% in 2019 to 42.7% in 2021. “Because most vapes contain nicotine, and some at very high levels, many of these students could find themselves quickly going from experimentation to addiction,” said Harding.
ARFNZ has been educating young people about the risks of vaping for years and recently through its Don’t Get Sucked In website ( dontgetsuckedin.co.nz), which provides information for schools and students about vaping and e-cigarettes. It challenges young people to think critically about vaping and how it fits with their goals.
This year, the Foundation is partnering with the Life Education Trust to offer its expertise and resources for the Trust’s in-school programmes, which will educate children and young people about the harms of vaping.
Life Education Trust Chief Executive John O’Connell says schools are recognising vaping is a health issue for young people, much as smoking was 20 years ago. “As schools first grappled with students vaping, the response was a punitive approach,” says O’Connell. “They are now seeing many students addicted to nicotine, and are asking for help to educate students about the risks of vaping.”
While vaping can be a useful tool for current smokers who want to quit, nicotine poses specific risks for adolescents, whose brains and bodies are still developing. There is increasing evidence showing that vaping is not harmless.
“We want to do all we can to prevent our non-smoking rangatahi from picking up a vape and ending up getting addicted to nicotine,” says Harding. “One of the key recommendations that ARFNZ would like to see is limiting the amount of nicotine content in vaping products to a maximum of 20mg (in line with the EU directive 2014/40). This may just help protect the many Year 10s who are ‘experimenting’ from becoming unwittingly addicted to their vape.”