15 Jun 2023

Vaping: 'Enough is enough' - Mother seeks action to cut young people's access

12:00 pm on 15 June 2023
vaping generic

File photo Photo: Unsplash / Nery Zarate

Panicked parents have banded together to call for stronger action from the government to curb the rising number of young people vaping.

They say they are seeing their children become debilitated by their addiction.

Their Facebook group, Vape-Free Kids NZ, was started a month ago and already has more than 1000 members.

Christchurch mother Anna, a member of the group, said her 16-year-old son was battling a crippling vaping addiction. He started at age 14 when his friend offered it to him at school, and the sweet flavour and headspin he got from it made the craving develop quickly.

"I only really found out almost a year after my son started, because he'd gotten so desperate that he had to steal money to buy his next vape - and that was how we discovered it.

"He broke down at that point and shared he'd been battling it by himself for a year."

Anna was not alone.

"The more I talk to other parents and teachers, the more we realise it's a massive problem. I'd expect that many parents don't realise their children vape because it is so easy to hide."

Her concerns were felt by 1000 other parents in Vape-Free Kids NZ.

Group spokesperson Marnie Wilton said social media posts flooded in from whānau about their kids, some as young as primary-school age, who were struggling to stop vaping.

A recent survey by ASH New Zealand found daily vaping among 13- to 14-year-olds had shot up by 209 percent.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Health statistics showed the number of 15- to 17-year-olds who vaped every day had quadrupled in three years, from 2 percent in 2018-19 to 8 percent in 2021-22.

The government recently announced measures to curb youth vaping, including banning most disposable vapes and not allowing new vape shops to set up near schools.

Wilton said they did not go far enough.

"Enough is enough. Our kids don't need this. It's a good tool for smoking cessation, that's fine, leave it for people that need it for that, but don't target our children. In a goal to achieve a smoke-free generation our kids are being thrown under the bus in the process."

The group's petition calling for the sale of vaping products to be banned from non-vape stores, like dairies, had close to 5000 signatures.

Many parents said kids were easily getting hold of vapes because dairies were not always strict with checking IDs.

Industry blames lack of enforcement

The Vaping Industry Association of New Zealand blamed the Ministry of Health's lack of enforcement for rising youth vaping rates.

Chair Jonathan Devery said youth vaping posed the largest risk to the industry, and he wanted stricter measures such as $10,000 fines for stores that sold to minors.

One Vape-Free Kids NZ member, an Auckland mother, said her 15-year-old son had been prescribed nicotine patches from the family GP to help him with his vaping addiction.

"This is a child that will wake up and vape whilst he's unwell because he needs that nicotine hit so badly. Some kids are going to vape and they're not going to continue it, but there's so many kids it has become really habitual for.

"I'm really, really concerned about the health of our young people, and particularly the mental health and the burden that a vaping addiction places on them."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the government's measures aimed to reduce the appeal, addictiveness and availability of vaping products. They said a campaign called Protect Your Breath was launched late last year to encourage young people to live vape-free lives.

While the damaging effects of nicotine on young people were understood, experts warned it could be 10 to 20 years before all the dangers of vaping were truly known.

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