Concerns about rising popularity of e-cigarettes among teens

Morgan Liotta

20/02/2020 3:12:33 PM

Australian parents and health experts are calling for tighter restrictions on the availability and promotion of e-cigarettes to teenagers.

Young woman vaping.
Part of a growing cause for concern of young people using e-cigarettes is that they act as a potential gateway to tobacco smoking.

Most parents have had conversations with their teenaged children about smoking regular cigarettes (71%), drinking alcohol (81%) and other drug use (80%), but less than half have never discussed the use of e-cigarettes or vaping with their teen.
These figures, from the latest Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) quarterly National Child Health Poll, suggest parents are not fully aware of the potential risks of e-cigarettes, according to the researchers.
The poll of 2029 Australian parents collected their views on current laws and use of e-cigarettes, revealing that 73% were concerned that their children aged under 18 might try them.
Dr Anthea Rhodes, a paediatrician who led the RCH poll, said the popularity of e-cigarette products among Australian teens is growing at an ‘alarming rate’ and the study confirms many parents believe that if a product is legal, it must be safe.
‘E-cigarettes are not safe for teenagers and efforts should be made to educate people about the risks,’ Dr Rhodes said.
‘This study provides strong evidence for support of government efforts to strengthen regulations that prevent access of these products to minors, and to the broader public as well.’
Thirty-one per cent of surveyed parents are unaware that e-cigarettes contain toxins and 40% are unaware they can cause death. The poll supports the need to enforce stricter regulations around access to these products and increase health warnings in a bid to reduce growing popularity, particularly among young people.
‘The health harms of e-cigarettes are real. These products contain a multitude of toxins and chemicals, and [as] they are still new, the full extent of their potential harm is not yet known,’ Dr Rhodes said.
‘Talking to teens about risky behaviours is a really important way for parents to help keep their child safe. Having a conversation about e-cigarettes will not only help educate them, but help parents to develop an honest line of communication and encourage children to share their concerns.’
Libby Jardine, Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Tobacco Issues Committee, said parents are right to worry that e-cigarette companies were using ‘unethical tactics and loopholes’ to sell their products to young people, potentially acting as a gateway to tobacco smoking.
‘[Teenagers trying e-cigarettes] is a real cause for concern, particularly because there is growing evidence that they are an on ramp for smoking,’ she said.
‘Despite the fact that possession of nicotine-containing e-cigarette products is illegal in Australia without a medical authority, kids are able to access and import nicotine through websites that don’t require a prescription or have proper age checks.’
Almost half (49%) of parents from the RCH survey agreed the sale, supply, and use of all types of e-cigarettes should be banned in Australia, with 87% thinking it is ‘too easy’ for people aged under 18 to buy e-cigarettes online.
Laws of the sale and use of e-cigarettes to people aged under 18 vary across jurisdictions and 38% of surveyed parents are unaware of laws banning e-cigarettes in places where smoking is illegal. There are currently no vaping products approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and sale of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes is illegal without prescription.
The RACGP’s newly updated Supporting smoking cessation: A guide for health professionals details the use of e-cigarettes as a potential second-line treatment only, but emphasises a precautionary approach when assessing whether to prescribe nicotine-containing e-cigarettes as the best option for their patients intending to quit.
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