By Life Ed Queensland CEO Michael Fawsitt
Thanks to public health campaigns and education over many decades, Australia has had great success in reducing smoking prevalence. While tobacco is the single largest cause of preventable death and disease in Australia, causing 44% of the cancer burden, fewer people are smoking daily, and more people have never smoked compared with 20 years ago.
While any death from smoking is tragic, widespread community consciousness of the harms of cigarette smoking, along with a sizeable shift in attitudes among young people to choose not to smoke, is a big win.
But just when we thought we were turning the tide … in recent years, vaping has emerged as a real threat to the health and wellbeing of a whole new generation of young Australians.
Recent studies indicate a rapid and substantial increase in youth e-cigarette use, with vaping among young people threatening to undermine decades of tobacco control campaigns.
Research reveals disposable vaping devices are the most popular among young people. We know that kids whose friends vape are more likely to vape themselves. We also know that if you vape, you’re three times as likely to take up smoking cigarettes. Vapes are readily available, even though in Australia it’s been illegal to use or supply nicotine-containing vaping devices without a prescription since 2021.
While health experts are still gauging the long-term health effects of heated vape fluid, they’re already warning that many vapes contain a cocktail of toxic chemicals that can permanently scar lungs, cause breathing difficulties in the short term and cancer in the long term.
We’ve known for years that nicotine affects every single organ in the body, including the heart and brain, so news regarding the emergence of rechargeable vaping devices claiming to contain up to 10,000 puffs is cause for serious concern.
The announcement by the Queensland government of a parliamentary inquiry into vaping is an opportunity to turn the tide, so that vaping doesn’t become normalised, and so that the gains made in reducing tobacco use over recent decades aren’t lost.
We have to act fast and work together. Education must play a role, as it has done with tackling cigarette smoking. It will take a concerted effort on the part of government, schools, parents, NGOs like Life Ed, and the wider community – for the sake of this generation of young people, and generations to come.