I recently asked a high school teacher for their thoughts on issues impacting young people. In response, it was mentioned that one of the biggest issues she has witnessed is vaping. Vaping is a recent phenomenon that has increased in popularity over the past few years. A disclaimer, I haven’t tried it myself nor do I have a health degree, so I don’t claim to be a subject matter expert on the topic. However, we do need to have a basic level of education on the matter, as it is such a relevant topic confronting youth. So, let’s get to know vaping!
Let’s start with the statistics. In November last year, the NZ Asthma Foundation released findings from a nationwide youth vaping survey including more than 19,000 respondents. The results showed that 27% of respondents reported vaping and 15% reported smoking traditional cigarettes in the past week; 20% of respondents reported vaping daily and with high nicotine doses. With one in five teenagers vaping daily, it shows that this high school teacher is right, vaping is certainly making an impact.
So, why do young people vape? It is often viewed by young people as harmless, especially in comparison to traditional cigarettes, which is true. It is an effective way, particularly for smokers to quit smoking. However, is it really harmless for youth? While it is still early days in determining the long-term impacts, there is increasing evidence that it does take its toll on health. In particular, vaping has been shown to have adverse effects on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. For example, I was talking to a young person the other day about playing sports and he said that all the players in his team would run out of breath and could hardly stay on court because they vaped all the time! There is also research that shows links to depression, ADHD and impact on brain development. It’s still early days in determining the long-term impacts, but the warning signs are not looking promising.
So, how do we deal with this issue? We need to understand that the ‘cool’ factor of smoking is part of the image of being a vaper. It’s the trending thing to do. Also, as is the case for many teenage issues, peer pressure is a factor … if your friends are doing it, you wouldn’t want to be the one left out, right? Then there is the appeal of the fun flavours that particularly attract youth users. And for some, it may even be a coping mechanism for dealing with stress and anxiety.
Finally, let’s not shy away from the conversation. I think it is important to understand the ‘why’ and ask young people open ended questions without judgment. At the same time, we can show we care by encouraging young people to be the healthiest version of themselves. This involves promoting an awareness of the harm that vaping can cause. The biggest risks of vaping are the unknown risks, so the best way is to play it safe and simply enjoy the beauty of inhaling some good old fashioned fresh air!