Increased calls are being made for government action to halt a spiraling epidemic in vaping among secondary school students.
A new survey of more than 19,000 teenagers has found that more than a quarter of them are vaping at least once a week, many are addicted to nicotine and most are using high-strength products.
The online research was carried out in July and August by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation (ARFNZ) in partnership with the Secondary Principals’ Association, in response to growing concerns from parents, teachers and schools over an epidemic of teen vaping.
Mahurangi College principal Tony Giles said vaping was now such a scourge in schools that the Ministry of Health needed to phase it out entirely to prevent significant negative health consequences.
“Fundamentally, vaping is not safe. To claim, as some have, that vaping is ‘safer than smoking’ is disingenuous and ignores the growing wealth of scientific evidence that vaping is very harmful, particularly to developing teenagers,” he said.
“While students vaping at school is an irritant, of much greater concern to principals is the fact that students as young as 10, who were not smoking and were never going to smoke, are becoming addicted to vaping. Many want to stop, but struggle to overcome the nicotine addiction that they have developed.”
This was confirmed by AFRNZ survey authors, who said many young people were using high nicotine vapes without ever having smoked a cigarette, and quickly becoming addicted. In addition, they said vaping not only exposed young people’s heart and lungs to harmful toxins, but vaping had been consistently associated with depression, ADHD and conduct disorders in adolescents. Nicotine exposure has also been shown to impact learning and memory.
Tony Giles said heath officials had been hoodwinked by Big Tobacco, which controlled much of the vaping industry and employed slick marketing “built on lies and dissemination”.
“The Director General of Health needs to show real leadership in this area and look to phase out this scourge from our schools and Aotearoa,” he said.
ARFNZ recommendations to curb the rise in teen vaping include limiting the nicotine content in vaping products to 20mg, or 2 per cent; raising the legal age to buy vapes to 21; banning front-of-store window advertising and product display by retailers and preventing the sale of vaping products within a 1km radius of schools.
ARFNZ also runs a vaping education website Don’t Get Sucked In (DGSI) to inform and educate young people about the risks of vaping and encourage them not to try it in the first place.
In addition to this, the Life Education Trust is planning to introduce a theatre-in-education programme on vaping to secondary schools next year and will be offering professional development workshops to teachers and whānau throughout New Zealand.
The full report can be found here: www.asthmafoundation.org.nz/assets/images/A-2021-report-into-youth-vaping.pdf
Key findings from the ARFNZ survey
27 per cent of students said they had vaped and 15 per cent said they had smoked cigarettes in the previous week
75 per of those vaping, or 20 per cent of all students who responded, were vaping daily or several times a day, mostly with high nicotine doses
More than half of those vaping were vaping more frequently and at higher nicotine levels than last year
86 per cent of students vaping more than once a day said they were addicted to vaping and 57 per cent felt that it was having an adverse effect on their health
The most common source of vaping supplies was from dairies