Despite e-cigarettes being restricted and legally obtainable in Australia only through a prescription, research conducted by The George Institute for Global Health has suggested that the number of young Australians who use these products is increasing. This is concerning as e-cigarettes are not safe for young people and can lead to addiction and other health issues. This article will explore the findings of the study and what it means for Australia's approach to regulating e-cigarettes.
The study by The George Institute for Global Health involved 1,000 Australians aged between 15 and 30 years, with a spread across postcodes that was generally consistent with population distribution. The participants were asked to complete an online survey to explore their exposure to e-cigarettes, their vaping patterns, and potential ways to minimize harm from these products.
Almost half of those who completed the online survey reported being either current e-cigarette users (14%) or having tried or used them in the past (33%). This is a notable increase from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which found that around 5% of young adults were current users.
Disposable devices were the most popular, used by almost two-thirds of those who had ever used e-cigarettes, with especially high rates among younger users (80% of 15-21 year olds compared to just under half of 22-30 year olds). Fruit flavors were the most preferred by far.
Only a very small number of respondents obtained their e-cigarettes via prescription (7%). The most common sources for the rest of the respondents were vape and tobacco shops, via friends aged over 18, and online.
Impact on Young Australians
Lead author Professor Simone Pettigrew from The George Institute for Global Health said that the increasing uptake of e-cigarettes by young adults was a worrying trend. "Our study suggests a need for much greater monitoring and enforcement of Australia's e-cigarette regulations to minimize harm to young people from vaping," she said.
Young people are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of e-cigarettes, including addiction and a range of health issues such as lung damage, heart disease, and stroke. The increasing use of e-cigarettes among young people is therefore a significant public health concern that needs to be addressed urgently.
Australia's Approach to E-cigarette Regulation
While e-cigarettes are marketed as a solution to help tobacco smokers quit, Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council cautions against this assumption. "There is limited evidence on the efficacy of e-cigarettes as successful smoking cessation tools, with research showing it was more common for smokers to become dual users—of both e-cigarettes and tobacco products at the same time—than to quit if they used nicotine e-cigarettes," said Prof. Pettigrew. "So, if you're looking to kick the habit, seek help and find a proven, safe aid to help you quit."
Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin, CEO, Public Health Association of Australia, said this peer-reviewed research reinforced the need for Australia to strengthen its regulation of e-cigarettes to protect young people. "The findings are alarming—Australia has been a world-leader in tobacco control but we are facing an epidemic of young people who are becoming addicted to nicotine via e-cigarettes," he said.
Journal Information: Simone Pettigrew et al, E-cigarette attitudes and use in a sample of Australians aged 15–30 years, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.anzjph.2023.100035