Almost 40% of Kiwi students have experimented with vaping or e-cigarettes, according to a new study from the University of Auckland.

The study, conducted among 30,000 Year 10 students across New Zealand, shows that the number of non-smoking youth trying vaping has increased from just 11.1% in 2014, to 24.6% in 2019. Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ Chief Executive Letitia Harding says that this highlights some areas of concern that are not being addressed by current authorities.

"We see almost a quarter of non-smoking youth aged 14-15 experimenting with vaping as a huge problem," says Letitia. "Moreover, many are doing it without key information on the harmful effects that e-cigarettes have on the lungs, or the detrimental effects of nicotine on the developing brains of teenagers. The idea that vaping is less harmful than cigarettes is all well and good, but they are absolutely not without harm.

"We are deeply concerned about the lack of regulation around vaping, and the lack of emphasis by the government on the negative aspects of vaping. It is understood that youth will experiment, with alcohol and vaping among other things. But we also have several campaigns educating youth around the harms of alcohol consumption; there is no such campaign around vaping."

Health professionals and educators around the country are concerned with the rise in e-cigarette experimentation among youth.

"Vaping has the potential to get a new generation of young people addicted to nicotine," says Philip Pattemore, Associate Professor of Paediatrics at University of Otago. "The tobacco industry, which continues to market cigarettes, has controlling interests in the vaping market, and their business is based on addiction."

Letitia says that clarity is vital when discussing the health effects of these products.

"It is important that youth understand that "less harmful" does not equate to harm-free. When vaping advocates refer to the products as "safe", they mean in comparison to cigarettes. This can be both misleading and confusing if not explicitly stated, as it leads to the interpretation that vaping is harmless."

ARFNZ supports multiple expert organisations concerned with the uptake of youth vaping, including the American Heart Association, the European Respiratory Society, and the World Health Organisation. The WHO’s recent Q&A says that "there is no doubt that they are harmful to health and are not safe", and that "ENDS are particularly risky when used by adolescents."

"We can all agree that we don’t want youth vaping, or becoming addicted to nicotine", says Letitia, "and our upcoming Don’t Get Sucked In campaign aims to encourage critical thinking among non-smoking youth. We’re on the side of evidence and information, and we think our youth deserve to have all the facts."

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