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No NZ Teen Epidemic

Still ‘no teen epidemic’ according to annual University of Auckland research, mirroring results from the United Kingdom

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“Use of e-cigarettes” research, published on Lancet Public Health Online First journal, has found there is no evidence of any teen epidemic in New Zealand. The annual study by academics at the University of Auckland, looked at the use of vapes in around 30,000 students.

The study found: “All measures of e-cigarette use increased and all measures of cigarette use decreased or remained static over time. Although the proportion of students who had ever tried e-cigarettes in 2019 (37·3%, 10 093 of 27 083), exceeded the proportion who had ever smoked (19·6%, 5375 of 27 354), daily use of products was low: e-cigarettes (3·1%, 832 of 26 532), cigarettes (2·1%, 575 of 27 212), both (0·6%, 159 of 27 633). In 2019, daily use of e-cigarettes was very low in never-smokers (0·8%, 175 of 21 385). Students who were Māori, Pacific, gender diverse, or from low-decile and mid-decile schools were more likely to be daily users of e-cigarettes or cigarettes, and males were more likely to be daily e-cigarette users, but less likely to smoke daily than females.”

The authors concluded: “The overall decline in smoking over the past 6 years in New Zealand youth suggests that e-cigarettes might be displacing smoking. Ongoing monitoring will be important to determine whether the liberalisation of e-cigarette availability and marketing in New Zealand has any effect on long-term patterns of daily e-cigarette and cigarette use.”

Auckland Secondary School Principals' Association president Richard Dykes prefered a bit of anecdotal evidence: "Literally at every interval we are confiscating vapes. It's a huge concern for us. Frankly right now we have a wild west situation. The Government needs to regulate this. We can't wait."

“The survey confirms youth vaping rates remain very low and that vaping remains largely confined to smokers” - Ben Pryor, VTANZ

Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa (who has failed to deliver the sensible regulation demanded by manufacturers and retailers) said: "I've already had many, many letters from parents, from principals, from teachers, who tell me that they are really worried, especially about their young people and children who are beginning to vape. Seeing this legislation introduced is a priority for me."

"It also shows that a minority of young people have tried vaping, but it hasn't stuck. And that's good news. However, vaping is not risk-free and I am concerned about any young people developing a taste for nicotine."

Lead author Associate Professor Dr Natalie Walker commented that the findings didn’t support the idea of a so-called youth epidemics in New Zealand: "Despite increases in experimentation, it is encouraging that daily use remains low, especially for non-smokers. 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."

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) chairman Professor Robert Beaglehole praised the research and said that despite government inaction, vaping is still mostly practised by  smokers and ex-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."

“The survey confirms youth vaping rates remain very low and that vaping remains largely confined to smokers. In fact, of the few students who do vape, three out of four were smokers. What’s more, while experimentation may be up, with over a third trying vaping, very, very few carry it on,” says Ben Pryor, spokesperson for the Vaping Trade Association of New Zealand.

“This is one of the biggest surveys conducted in New Zealand every year, and anti-vapers have been saying these numbers would prove shocking. Well once again they are wrong. Researchers have confirmed the so-called youth vaping epidemic doesn’t actually exist. So, we’re asking the Government to closely review the survey’s findings before it starts meddling with adult smokers’ best chance of quitting cigarettes for good.”

“Vaping needs quality manufacturing standards, clear advertising guidelines, and strict R18 enforcement. However, prohibiting flavours won’t make any difference to youth vaping rates. There remains no evidence, here or overseas, that flavours lead to youth vaping and vaping leads to smoking. This latest ASH survey completely reinforces that.”


  • Use of e-cigarettes and smoked tobacco in youth aged 14–15 years in New Zealand: findings from repeated cross-sectional studies (2014–19) – [link]

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Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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