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Experts call for a more ‘holistic’ approach to addressing impacts of youth vaping

19 September, 2023

Interviews by Leilani Cardosa and Rawan Saidi, adapted by Athena Li-Watts

Professor of Public Health Janet Hoek and Health Coalition Aotearoa’s Leitu Tufuga told 95bFM’s Tomorrow’s World that many young people want to quit vaping but lack support. 

Tomorrow's World is a segment on 95bFM’s The Wire that explores how science affects people and our future on planet Earth.

Recent statistics from the Ministry of Health reveal one in twelve young people over the age of fifteen vape daily. The latest Action on Smoking and Health Year 10 survey also found that 10% of 14 to 15 year olds vape daily. For Māori rangatahi of the same age, around 20% vape daily. 

In response to these statistics, the Labour Party has promised to crack down on youth vaping, if re-elected, by limiting the number of vape retailers nationwide to 600.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has also stated that existing vape retailers within 300 metres of schools and marae may have to close their businesses.

Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago, Janet Hoek, told 95bFM’s Tomorrow's World that there has been a lot of focus on the physical health impacts of vaping on young people, but it is important to consider the effects on their mental well-being. 

“We need to think more holistically about the impact vaping has on young people.” 

Hoek said young people can experience feelings of anxiety and lethargy, and disruptions to relationships with their family. 

“They are often hiding their vaping from caregivers, and that is something that disrupts the trusting relationship many young people seek.”

Hoek suggests young people can also become alienated from their peers, if they are vaping and their friends are not. 

“They have to go away and find time to vape. It takes them outside their social group.”

Vapes were originally developed as a smoking cessation tool. However, many rangatahi who are vaping have never smoked.

Chair of Health Coalition Aotearoa’s Smokefree Expert Advisory Group, Leitu Tufuga, told Tomorrow's World that the industry has marketed vapes the same way tobacco used to be: to lure in young people. 

With many vape retailers existing around low socio-economic areas and in dairies near schools, coupled with colourful packaging, Tufuga said vapes are too appealing and accessible. 

“We want to make it less attractive. We have seen with tobacco, plain packaging has helped.”

Tufuga said they have heard from whānau that we need to see a reduction in vaping stores and that Māori and Pacific communities in particular have expressed frustration that vape retailers are so accessible to children.

Hoek said vapes should be accessible to adults trying to quit smoking but argued there is a need to limit the visibility of vapes to protect children. 

She recommends removing vapes from dairies, banning disposable vapes that target rangatahi, and restricting advertising on social media.

Hoek and Tufuga agree that many young people have a desire to quit vaping but lack the resources to do so. 

Tufuga suggests that support programmes and vaping education should be implemented in places where rangatahi are, including schools, sports, and community groups including faith programmes. 

“It will be really important to put in place support for young people who have started vaping who regret the high dependence they now have on nicotine.”

She said Aotearoa’s goal to be smoke free by 2025 may be difficult to achieve, given how many rangatahi are addicted to nicotine.

“We need to make sure that whoever is in government makes a bold goal and actually follows through with having less vape retailers in our communities.”

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air