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The challenge of vaping and young people – and how Quit is paving the way for change

Together, in 2023 we made significant progress towards reducing the harmful effects of vaping 

Use of e-cigarettes is on the rise. A staggering 77,200 Victorian adults, who have previously never smoked, took up vaping in the last three years alone. More than half of these Victorians were under 30 years old.  

“We have watched in horror as e-cigarette use by young people in Victoria has rapidly increased. Just when smoking rates among teenagers were approaching zero, we have seen a new vaping epidemic take off like wildfire,” said Rachael Andersen, Quit Director. 

The tobacco industry continues to employ unethical marketing tactics to promote vaping on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, directly targeting young adults and children.  

'See through the Haze' campaign raised awareness about the many poisonous chemicals in e-cigarettes

 

“We see the vaping industry employing the tactics of their forebears in Big Tobacco. The ubiquitous marketing of unhealthy products to children both online and in retail stores uses cartoon characters, flavours like fairy floss and cola ice. The co-location of these highly addictive e-cigarettes alongside lollies, toys and sugar laden drinks in high street shops. This must stop,” said Todd Harper.  

While Australia has been a global leader in tobacco control for many decades, vaping is threatening to undo our successFor the first time in 25 years, we’ve seen 14–17-year-old smoking rates triple in just four years, rising in tandem with teen vaping which rose 12-fold over the same timeframe from 2018-2022. 

Despite the significant positive impact of Australian initiatives such as tobacco plain packaging and graphic health warnings on cigarette packs, smoking remains our leading cause of preventable death and illness, including cancer. An estimated 20,500 Australians died from tobacco-related illness in 2018.

However, in the last 12-months we have been part of a groundswell of support to address smoking and vaping from all levels of government, significant interest from journalists in news media, and growing concern from members of the public – particularly parents, health workers and school communities. 

We welcomed Federal Government reforms, including the landmark Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023 to prevent and further reduce harm caused by tobacco and other products, including e-cigarettes. In May, we also celebrated the introduction of the National Tobacco Strategy 2023-2030 (the first of its kind in five years) which aims to reduce the prevalence of daily smoking in Australia from around 11 per cent to less than five per cent by 2030.  

To tackle the rise of e-cigarettes and vaping, Cancer Council Victoria and Quit launched the first Victorian vaping education campaign, ‘See through the Haze and online hub called ‘Get the facts on vaping’ designed to support parents and teens on their journey to quit. Already, Quitline has received calls from children as young as 12, and adults up to 79 wanting support to stop vaping.  

“We know vaping is a big issue for parents and teachers and we hope to support them and their teens on their journey to quit,” said Rachael. 

The campaign equipped people with evidence informed vaping facts. Initial evaluation results demonstrated the advertisement made Victorians ages 14 to 39 years feel fearful (54 per cent) when considering the consequences of vaping. 

Among those who currently vape and recalled seeing the ‘See through the Haze’ campaign on digital platforms or outdoor posters, approximately two thirds agreed the campaign was relevant and believable, with 57 per cent agreeing that the campaign made them stop and think.  

Anecdotally, Quit is hearing about concerned young people and their carers battling nicotine addiction and its associated challenges.   

“Some of us aren’t doing it [vaping] to look cool, some of us are genuinely struggling with addictions or are using them as coping mechanisms like a stress reliever,” said a 17-year-old student.  

Todd Harper added that the known health harms of e-cigarettes are cause for action.  

“We know that e-cigarettes can impede brain development in young people, lead to seizures and loss of concentration, exacerbate mood disorders, inhibit sleep and cause irritability and anxiety. We also know that people who vape are three times as likely take up cigarette smoking.” 

Cancer Council Victoria is committed to shining a spotlight on the harms of e-cigarettes and the unethical marketing practices of the tobacco industry. With your support, we will continue to advocate for important legislative change and deliver programs that create healthy environments for all,” said Rachael.  

AI-supported vaping cessation program to stop the next generation of nicotine addicts 

A new partnership between Cancer Council Victoria and the Minderoo Foundation will launch an Artificial Intelligence AI-supported text based vaping cessation program for teens and young adults to assist them to quit smoking or vaping. The technology developed will provide young people with a personalised quitting plan based on their individual responses regarding motivation, confidence, and past quit attempts. It allows them to text the AI ‘quit companion’ at any time to engage in one-on-one conversations or seek support. The technology will also send proactive text messages to initiate check-ins and provide personalised guidance, as well as celebrate key milestones along the quit journey. 

 

Get the facts on vaping

  • For support to stop vaping call Quitline on 13 78 48 or visit quit.org.au
  • For more information on how to talk to young people about vaping, vist vapingfacts.org.au

Get the facts on vaping