The Rise of Teenage Vaping: A Growing Concern for New Zealand

The rise in teenage vaping has become a pressing issue in New Zealand, casting a shadow over the country’s goal of becoming smoke-free by 2025. While vaping is considered a less harmful alternative for adult smokers, its accessibility and alluring flavors have made it increasingly popular among teenagers and even younger children. This article delves into the impact of teenage vaping on New Zealand’s youth and the measures being taken to address the crisis.

The number of teenagers in New Zealand who regularly vape has tripled between 2019 and 2021, according to recent data. This exponential rise can be attributed to several factors, including the ease of purchasing vapes despite the legal age restrictions, the lack of strict regulations on flavors, and the marketing tactics employed to attract young consumers. The government has recognized the sharp increase in youth vaping and has implemented new rules to curb its prevalence. These include banning most disposable vapes, prohibiting new vape shops within a certain radius of schools, and enforcing generic flavor descriptions. However, there is still a lack of regulations regarding the vast variety of flavors available in the market.

Educators, such as Vaughan Couillault, principal of Papatoetoe High School and president of the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand, have witnessed firsthand the impact of vaping on young people. Vaping has become a lifestyle object, with teenagers carrying vapes alongside their phones. Couillault highlights the appeal of vaping to youngsters and the marketing strategies that have made it sleek and modern. While vaping may help some individuals quit smoking, it has also led to many young people who would have never considered cigarettes now being hooked on multiple vapes.

The prevalence of vaping among teenagers has become a cause for concern for parents and communities. Many vape shops have emerged near schools and playgrounds, raising worries about their proximity to safe spaces for children. The introduction of government regulations has been criticized for not going far enough to address this problem. Neighboring Australia has taken a stricter approach by banning recreational vaping and making it prescription-only. However, experts argue that banning vaping may push it underground and create a black market, rather than helping young individuals quit the habit.

Ben Youdan, director of Ash NZ, states that while vaping has contributed to a significant decrease in smoking rates, it has also led to the rapid growth of the vape market. He acknowledges the need for stricter regulations to ensure responsible support for adult smokers while preventing the onset of vape dependency among youth. It is important to differentiate between vape-dependent teenagers who require treatment and those who are simply experimenting.

The issue of teenage vaping represents a delicate balance between reducing youth vaping rates and decreasing adult smoking rates. New Zealand’s goal of becoming smoke-free by 2025 may be compromised if teenage vaping continues to escalate. Stricter regulations, further education campaigns, and dialogue between government, educators, parents, and the vaping industry are crucial to address this crisis effectively. Achieving a smoke-free future requires a comprehensive approach that not only supports adult smokers in quitting but also protects the well-being and health of the younger generation.