Lung Foundation Australia wants greater protections for young people from vaping, following a damning government report.
The organisation says young Australians are easily and often unknowingly purchasing harmful vapes, most containing nicotine, as the vaping industry continues to sell unregulated products at the expense of the country’s youth.
Lung Foundation Australia is urging the Federal Government to strengthen and launch the National Tobacco Strategy in 2022 with an amplified focus on addressing the rising health concerns of e-cigarettes.
Vaping on the rise
E-cigarette use in Australians aged 14 and older more than doubled between 2016-2019 with nearly one in five under 24 having used them.
It’s illegal to sell vapes to anyone under 18, and over-the-counter nicotine vapes are banned, but Lung Foundation Australia says it’s evident that both these laws are being ignored, with schools reporting this as a significant issue.
The recently released government report, commissioned by the Australian Depratment of Health, shows the use of nicotine e-cigarettes increases the risk of a range of adverse health outcomes, particularly in youth, including smoking uptake, addiction, poisoning, seizures, trauma, burns, and lung injury.
The report also found that young non-smokers who vape are three times more likely to take up cigarette smoking than non-vapers.
Lead author Professor Emily Banks from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health In Australia said over two million people have used e-cigarettes and use is more common among youth.
‘Nicotine use in children and adolescents can lead to lifelong addiction issues as well as difficulties in concentration and learning,’ said Professor Banks. ‘There are myths targeting young people; the false ideas that vapes wouldn’t be widely available if they were dangerous and ‘it’s just water vapour.’
Marketing targeting young people
Vapes are being marketed heavily through social media, often with fruity, alcohol or confectionary flavours to entice youth and give the perception that these are fun and safe, but they are far from it.
A recent survey conducted by Lung Foundation Australia shows that 83% of Australians think more needs to be done to protect children from vaping.
Experts such as Dr Sukhwinder Sohal warn that e-cigarettes may create another generation of nicotine addiction and a rise in serious health issues such as lung disease and lung cancer.
‘Research shows us that e-liquids available in Australia that are marketed as nicotine-free actually do contain nicotine,’ said Dr Sohal.
‘Australians and, concerningly, children are inhaling this hidden nicotine, among a concoction of other chemicals that we either know to be damaging to lungs or whose true effects remain to be seen, without having any real understanding of just how harmful it is.’
Learn from history
92% of Australians aged over 65 believe the government needs to do more to combat youth vaping – an ominous warning from a generation now living through the repercussions of the unregulated tobacco industry, who are watching history repeat.
Mum of three Alison is living with stage 4 lung cancer and worries the lack of research around vapes and young people will lead to more people going through what she is. ‘I found my son vaping and I can see it from his point of view – it’s so normalised, accessible, and everyone’s doing it,’ said Ms Bolton.
‘A fifteen-year-old shouldn’t be able to get their hands on a vape so easily and, if they do, they should at least be fully aware of what’s in it and what it can lead to.’
Big tobacco’s latest ploy
Lung Foundation Australia CEO Mark Brooke says vaping is the latest ploy by big tobacco companies to reinvent themselves to stay relevant in the modern age.
‘These companies sold the world cigarettes with effective advertising and addictive ingredients, and it was a long time before the truth about their dangers came out,’ said Mr Brooke.
‘The government was forced into action but it was too late for many. Now, the writing’s on the wall for e-cigarettes and it’s time for the federal government to step in to protect Australia’s youth from lifelong health impacts including lung disease.’
The call for action on e-cigarettes is a part of a greater campaign by Lung Foundation Australia to strengthen the lung health of Australians in COVID-19 and beyond, with six main recommendations for the Australian government.
For more information, check out Lung Foundation Australia’s website.