E-cigarettes displacing youth smoking in New Zealand: Major new study published in the Lancet Public Health

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A major study of youth smoking by ASH New Zealand and the University of Auckland shows that while some young people are experimenting with vaping, daily use of an e-cigarette is occurring overwhelmingly in existing smokers.

The annual survey of almost 30,000 Year 10 students (typically aged 14-15 years) is one of the largest dedicated youth tobacco surveys in the world. Since 2014 the survey has asked about the use of e-cigarettes or vapes.

The new study found that in 2019, only 3.1% of Year 10 students vaped daily, while 37.3% have tried an e-cigarette, even just a puff, up from 20.8% in 2014.

Smoking status played an important part in experimentation with vaping. More than 95% of students who smoked daily had tried vaping, compared to 25% of those who had never smoked tobacco. Although a quarter of those who have never smoked had tried at least a single puff of an e-cigarette, less than one percent (0.8%) were daily users.

The study was published in prestigious scientific journal The Lancet Public Health on Wednesday, 22 January.

Lead author, Associate Professor Dr Natalie Walker from the University of Auckland, said: “Our findings are consistent with other national surveys and do not support the idea of a so-called youth vaping epidemic in Aotearoa New Zealand. Most importantly, our survey looks at daily use which is a far more reliable indicator of likely dependence on vaping, than weekly or monthly use. Despite increases in experimentation, it is encouraging that daily use remains low, especially for non-smokers”

Walker says “In fact, we believe that e-cigarettes might be displacing smoking for young people. Concerns about youth vaping should be weighed against the possibility that e-cigarettes could decrease the risk of smoking initiation and support smoking youth to quit.”

Currently vaping and e-cigarettes are unregulated in New Zealand, with advertising and availability widespread. Plans to regulate were announced by the Government in November 2018, but to date no proposals have been tabled.

ASH Chairman Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole said: “The findings are very encouraging as they show that despite a lack of government oversight, youth vaping remains low, and largely confined to smokers.

“It is the smoke that kills, and without smoke vaping remains far less harmful than smoking. Encouraging existing smokers to switch could have substantial health gains.  Of course, we do not want non-smokers, especially young people, to take up vaping, and this survey suggests that it is an unlikely scenario.

“If we base vaping regulations on unsupported fears of a youth epidemic, we run the very real risk of causing more harm, because we deny access to a much safer alternate to smoking.  We need sensible regulation of vaping that encourages and enables existing smokers to switch, whilst discouraging those who have never smoked from taking it up on a daily basis.”

The full Lancet Public Health article may be accessed here:

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(19)30241-5/fulltext