Australian surveys show vaping by young people has increased. Young people who vape nicotine are exposed to a toxic chemical that can harm adolescent brain development (the brain continues to develop until the age of 25) and lead to dependence. There is also some evidence that vaping nicotine is associated with later tobacco use among teenagers.
What is vaping?
Vaping refers to the use of an electronic device (e-cigarette) to heat liquids and produce a vapour, which is then inhaled – mimicking the act of smoking.
Why are young people attracted to vaping?
The advertising and promotion of vaping products is illegal in Australia; however, companies can use other strategies to target youth. Social media has been found to play a role as both an information source and as a means of exposure to e-cigarette advertising. Companies are also glamourising their products to seem cool or fun and creating flavours that appeal to young people.
There have been a number of studies which have found that e-cigarette flavours which give off the perception of sweetness (such as candy or fruit flavoured) may make buying and trying e-cigarettes more appealing among young people.
“In recent years we have also seen the proliferation of shops selling enticing non-nicotine e-cigarettes and liquids with thousands of attractive flavours like green apple ice, cinnamon roll and alpha mint. These are purely recreational products that have no place in our market for either kids or adults.” – Cancer Council Australia
There is no set formula for parents talking to their children about drugs, but the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s top tips include:
Start with information: Get the key facts, learn the basics about vaping products, and think through what you want to say. Consider some questions you might be asked, and how you want to respond.
Approach it calmly: Parents might want to start the conversation when they’re doing an activity together with their children, such as driving or preparing a meal. Keep things casual and relaxed. Parents may want to use something they saw in a TV show or on the news (like the new vaping report) as a chance to bring up the issue.
Don’t make assumptions: If a parent thinks their child may have tried vaping, they should avoid making accusations. Going through someone’s space looking for evidence isn’t recommended because it can undermine trust.
Avoid judging or lecturing: Parents should listen to their child’s point of view and keep it a two-way conversation. Parents should be mindful of body language and tone. If their child has tried vaping, parents can try asking questions like: ‘What made you want to try?’ and ‘How did it make you feel?’
Don’t exaggerate: Parents should make sure they are honest with their children about potential harms and avoid exaggerated statements.
Focus on health and explain your concerns: Parents should focus on how they care about their children and want them to be healthy. For example, if their child is vaping nicotine, parents can say that they are concerned about the evidence that this can affect adolescent brain development.
The following substances can be vaped:
- nicotine (which is the main psychoactive drug in tobacco)
- nicotine-free ‘e-liquids’ made from a mixture of solvents, sweeteners, other chemicals and flavourings
- other drugs, e.g., THC (cannabis) e-liquids
Vaping devices come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles.
The first generation of devices released in 2003 resembled cigarettes and were mostly disposable; second-generation devices looked like pens, were rechargeable, and used cartridges or tanks for the liquid; the third generation (‘mods’) are larger devices with bigger batteries and refillable tanks; and the current generation of devices (‘pods’) are significantly smaller, often resembling USB sticks.
Research suggests that contemporary vaping devices may be more harmful to health than earlier-generation devices. They can be modified to deliver a higher, more harmful concentration of nicotine, and have larger batteries that can heat e-liquids to higher temperatures, producing more toxic chemical particles in the inhaled vape cloud.
Some people use e-cigarettes to reduce or quit smoking. However, there is not enough evidence to support their use for this purpose. In fact, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not approved any e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking.