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Australian vaping crisis: Teen opens up about addiction amid claims vaping more harmful than smoking

Australian teens have opened up about how ‘super easy’ it is to get hold of and become addicted to nicotine vapes amid growing calls for them to be banned.

Vaping has been declared by experts as the nation’s next ‘big health issue’ as the number of Australians smoking e-cigarettes continues to rapidly rise.

It is estimated at least 400,000 Australians now vape, including one tenth of the NSW population aged 16-24, where numbers have doubled in the last year.

Experts have warned e-cigarettes are even more dangerous for teens than smoking as the craze becomes rife in high schools where teachers are tackling the issue on almost a daily basis.

Teens say it’s no hard to get their hands on cheap imported and disposable vapes in a thriving black market, despite the fact it’s illegal to sell or possess nicotine vapes without a prescription.

Year 12 student Ruby was just 14 when she had her first vape and quickly became addicted.

She revealed how simple how it is to get hold of them being sold under the counter or on social media.

There are growing concerns about the effect of nicotine addiction on teens through vaping (stock image)

There are growing concerns about the effect of nicotine addiction on teens through vaping (stock image)

Poll

SHOULD AUSTRALIA BAN VAPING?

‘I don’t want to be, like, a massive snitch but it’s actually, like, super easy,’ Ruby, 17, told Four Corners.

‘You can buy them from convenience stores and there’s also kids and young adults who buy them overseas in bulk.’

‘There’s lots of street dealers doing stuff. You go on your phone, you’re like, ‘Can I pick up a vape?’ and they’re like, ’20 minutes’. And you just meet them somewhere and they just hand it to you.

‘I think it’s the same as any other drugs. It’s definitely word of mouth and social media as well.’

She still remembers her first vape, which she described ‘like dying but in a good way’.

‘At the time everyone was like, ‘Oh, it’s healthier than smoking because you’re not getting the tobacco and all the carcinogens ‘in your lungs,’ Ruby recalled.

‘It just felt cleaner because you didn’t have the cigarette smell and the taste, and they’re flavoured with fruity stuff, so it just feels like you’re taking a lolly or something.’

Ruby is trying to give up her vaping addiction.

‘It’s the last thing you do before you go to sleep. It’s the first thing you do when you wake up,’ she said.

‘Sometimes you wake up a couple times during the night to hit it and then go back to sleep. Like it’s totally got a hold of you and it’s the only thing you think about.’

Western Sydney students also opened up how rife vaping is in schools, where students congregate in the toilets for a quick puff before class.

‘You want to go to the bathroom, and you just literally see tens of kids, like sitting in a circle just all sharing one and it’s crazy,’ one girl told the program.

‘They love the flavour, I reckon and then the nicotine gets them addicted and they just can’t stop.’

‘Another added: You can’t even really go to the bathroom at lunch anymore because they’re just all hogging the bathrooms vaping to hide from the teachers because they don’t wan to get caught.’

Ruby, now 17, became addicted to vapes three years ago and says they're 'super easy' to get

Ruby, now 17, became addicted to vapes three years ago and says they’re ‘super easy’ to get

Several western Sydney teens (one pictured) revealed how classmate congregate in the school toilets to vape

Several western Sydney teens (one pictured) revealed how classmate congregate in the school toilets to vape

Erskine Park High Principal Brenda Quayle can’t remember the last time she addressed smoking with students but deals with vaping on almost a daily basis.

She confiscates vapes from students several times a week, many in the shape of USB, hard drives and highlighters.

Ms Quayle has also heard stories of primary aged children as young as grades three and four using vapes.

‘The scent attached to some of the vapes that students are able to purchase now are quite sweet, so strange smells that we thought initially were perfume,’ she said.

‘There were a few jokes here and there about ‘Oh, it’s a bit of a sickly smell for a perfume,’ and trying to piece together what it was that they were now using as deodorants really made us start to stop and think and go, ‘No, this doesn’t seem like a scent.’

Australian National University Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health Emily Banks was tasked by the federal government to investigate the harms of e-cigarettes.

Her report is the most comprehensive review of the global evidence so far, which found vaping was a serious public-health risk.

‘They cause addiction. They can cause poisoning and toxicity through inhalation, which can lead to seizures, trauma and burns, lung injury,’ Professor Banks said. 

‘One of the issues with nicotine addiction at young age is not only the problem that goes with being addicted to a substance but it has effects on the developing brain.

‘So, we can see that it can affect memory, concentration and learning, but it also sets the foundation for future addiction.

Erskine Park High School principal Brenda Quayle deals with vaping on almost a daily basis at her western Sydney school

Erskine Park High School principal Brenda Quayle deals with vaping on almost a daily basis at her western Sydney school

State and federal authorities have ramped up their crackdown on the illicit vape market.

NSW Health has seized more than $1million worth of stock from tobacconists this year alone.

It comes days after a confronting government advertisement warn about the dangers of vaping shows an e-cigarette marked with the label ‘insect killer’ and the caption: ‘Do you know what you are vaping?’ 

The National Health and Medical Research Council released a report on e-cigarettes last Thursday, sounding the alarm for the more than two million Aussies who have tried the smoking alternative.

New testing shows vapes can contain hundreds of dangerous chemicals found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray. 

A confronting government advert to warn about the dangers of vaping shows an e-cigarette marked with the label 'insect killer' and the caption: 'Do you know what you are vaping?'

A confronting government advert to warn about the dangers of vaping shows an e-cigarette marked with the label ‘insect killer’ and the caption: ‘Do you know what you are vaping?’ 

Worry vaping facts 

– Many vapes contain nicotine making them addictive

– Vapes can contain the same harmful chemicals found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray

– Vapes can leave young people at increased risk of depression and anxiety

– The nicotine in one vape can = 50 cigarettes. Depending on the size of the vape and nicotine strength, it can be much higher

– Young people who vape are 3 times as likely to take up smoking cigarettes

– Vape aerosol is not water vapour

– Vaping has been linked to lung disease.

– Vapes can cause long-lasting damaging effects on the brain and physical development.

Source: NSW Government

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly warned ‘e-cigarettes carry significant harms’ – making it even more dangerous than traditional tobacco.

‘Please discuss this evidence with your children, your nieces and nephews, students, players in your football or netball team, your brothers and sisters – we need that conversation out there,’ he said.

‘We need these matters to be barbecue stoppers.’

Medical experts are particularly concerned about the take up of vaping among teens with flavours such as bubblegum, fairy floss, fruit loops, gummy bears and apple pie, luring young people in and getting them addicted.

The report found one in five Australians aged 18 to 24 have tried e-cigarettes, while five per cent use regularly.

The battery-powered devices work by heating the liquid inside and producing an aerosol that can be inhaled.

New testing shows vapes can contain hundreds of dangerous chemicals found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray

New testing shows vapes can contain hundreds of dangerous chemicals found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray

The vaping report found one in five Australians aged 18 to 24 have tried e-cigarettes

The vaping report found one in five Australians aged 18 to 24 have tried e-cigarettes

But the vapour – once touted as a safer alternative to cigarettes – is made up of various ‘cancer-causing’ chemicals such as heavy metals – even if labelled ‘nicotine free’. 

Other risks include cardiovascular disease and mental illness. 

An anti-vape campaign simultaneously launched by the NSW Government warned about the misconception that vaping is harmless.

‘Vapes are not water. The main ingredient in vapes is propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine or glyercol,’ the online ad said. 

‘Vapes can contain the same harmful chemicals found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray. They just don’t put it on the pack.

‘Testing has shown that vapes labelled ‘nicotine-free’ can have high nicotine levels. People can think they are using nicotine-free vapes and can unknowingly quickly develop a nicotine addiction.’

Medical experts are particularly concerned about the take up of vaping among teens with flavours such as bubblegum, fairy floss, fruit loops, gummy bears and apple pie, luring young people in and getting them addicted (stock image)

 Medical experts are particularly concerned about the take up of vaping among teens with flavours such as bubblegum, fairy floss, fruit loops, gummy bears and apple pie, luring young people in and getting them addicted (stock image)

Under current laws it is illegal to buy liquid nicotine without a doctor’s prescription, with the product treated as an alternative to anti-smoking aids like nicotine patches and gum. 

A claim long-held by advocates of e-cigarettes’ was that vaping can be an important tool which can help smokers quit. 

Advocates for the product, which includes lobbyists Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates, say e-cigarettes should be made more readily available as a smoking cessation.

But the report found no proof vaping helps smokers stub out for good. 

‘There is limited evidence that e-cigarettes are effective at helping smokers quit,’ Prof Kelly said.

‘Only one in three people who used e-cigarettes reported that they use them to help quit smoking, so most people are using them recreationally.’

About 2 million people across Australia have tried vaping (vape pictured)

About 2 million people across Australia have tried vaping (vape pictured)

What is an e-cigarette and how is it different to smoking tobacco?

An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is a device that allows users to inhale nicotine by heating a vapour from a solution that contain nicotine, propylene and flavourings.

As there is no burning involved, there is no smoke like a traditional cigarette.

But while they have been branded as carrying a lower risk than cigarettes, an increasing swell of studies is showing health dangers.

E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, but the vapor does contain some harmful chemicals.

Nicotine is the highly addictive chemical which makes it difficult for smokers to quit.  

Nearly three million people in Britain use e-cigarettes, and more than nine million Americans.

TYPES:

1. Standard e-cigarette

Battery-powered device containing nicotine e-liquid.

It vaporizes flavored nicotine liquid.

2. Juul

Very similar to normal e-cigarettes but with sleeker design and, in the US, a higher concentration of nicotine. In the UK and EU limited to 20 mg/ml. 

Thanks to its ‘nicotine salts’, manufacturers claim one pod delivers the amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

It is composed of an e-cigarette (battery and temperature control), and a pod of e-liquid which is inserted at the end.

The liquid contains nicotine, chemicals and flavorings.

Like other vaping devices, it vaporizes the e-liquid.

3. IQOS by Philip Morris

Pen-shaped, charged like an iPod.

Vaporizes tobacco.

It is known as a ‘heat not burn’ smokeless device, heating tobacco but not burning it (at 350C compared to 600C as normal cigarettes do).

The company claims this method lowers users’ exposure to carcinogen from burning tobacco.

 

 

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