27 Jun 2023

Quitting support limited for those wanting to kick vaping - agencies

6:57 am on 27 June 2023
Electronic cigarettes heat a liquid to produce a vapour that people inhale, with some liquids including nicotine.

Electronic cigarettes heat a liquid to produce a vapour that people inhale, with some liquids including nicotine. Photo: AFP/ Hans Lucas

Vapers hooked on the habit are struggling to get the help they need to quit, with agencies offering support for quitting saying they are limited to helping those who were using tobacco.

Increasing numbers of people who had never smoked cigarettes but were addicted to vaping were being directed to stop smoking programmes Ready Steady Quit and Quitline, Te Whatu Ora Health NZ said.

It advised those wanting to reduce their nicotine consumption to speak to their GP or a specialist vape retailer.

However, Ready Steady Quit provider ProCare said its funding was specified to support tobacco smokers.

"As part of our funding model we are unable to support vapers who have never smoked or who have been vaping for more than 12 months," a spokesperson said.

Whakarongorau Aotearoa, which runs Quitline, said its Quit Vaping programme was for people who vape to stop smoking tobacco.

On average, Ready Steady Quit received three to four enquiries from people who wanted to quit vaping each week, with little information about where to send people for help.

"Over the last few years, we have seen first-hand the rise in popularity of vaping, especially in young people who have never smoked before," a spokesperson said.

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.

ProCare said it would welcome the opportunity to provide a support service, but it needed funding and training to do so.

"We have started conversations with our funders, however there is no confirmation of funding support at this stage."

A Year 13 student from an Auckland secondary school, who wanted to stay anonymous, said he was reaching for his vape every five minutes before he managed to quit.

The student spent about $60 to $70 on a reusable vape and was buying vape juice every week for about $30.

He said a youth leader at his church encouraged him to give up.

"I believed that [vaping] was a cool and acceptable thing to do. He showed me how it was socially acceptable to not vape around people who vaped all the time.

"I think that it's really important to have somebody in your life that helps you stop vaping. It definitely helps to have somebody that can kind of step in and say, 'hey, look, you don't have to vape, cause other people do it.'

"If there was a professional service that helped kids stop vaping, it would be massive. I think a lot of kids would use that service and a lot of people that wanted to stop vaping would seek out that help if they knew it was there."

Asthma and Respiratory Foundation Māori Liaison Sharon Pihema said teenagers who have been vaping for years found it hard to give up.

"They have tried to do it on their own or with friends, but it is hard to quit nicotine," Pihema said.

"We get schools and principals contacting us wanting to visit and do education talks with their students and school community.

"We get emails and phone calls from parents and grandparents wanting to know what help is available for them to support their teenagers that are vaping."

Pihema said the government seemed to be ignoring the issue.

"Yes, focus on the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 work that needs to happen, but we do have this other issue happening across every community in the country, across every secondary school and we need to be doing something about it," she said.

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

Auckland Secondary Schools Principals' Association president Greg Pierce said vaping is an 'undeniable' challenge in high schools and there "rapidly" needs to be a service to help kick the habit.

"I do think it has reached a stage where legislation and regulation need to come into effect and very quickly.

"I think schools do a really good job of educating the students about vaping but of course, the ongoing challenge remains that, at this age group, the biggest influences of students are other students and that's what we're battling with day in and day out," Pierce said.

After two years of vaping, and $30 a week to feed his addiction, the Year 13 student said his life has changed for the better.

"I notice other people, especially my friends that vape, when they have to leave the classroom to vape. It's cool to look back and think that I don't have to do that. I don't have to leave the classroom every five minutes and I don't have to skip out on class time to go do that."

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