13 Feb 2023

Youth vaping: New regulations too little too late?

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 13 February 2023

Vaping regulations on the horizon show a government back-pedalling on previous messaging around vaping - but what does the most recent science say?

A teenager smokes an e-cigarette.

Photo: Unsplash

New regulations for vape retailers requiring strict record-keeping came into play at the beginning of this year, and more red tape is likely on the way with proposals for marketing and locations restrictions being floated in Wellington.

But has the horse bolted when it comes to youth vaping?

It's been a well-reported story over the last few years, with school principals characterising youth uptake of vaping as an epidemic.

The Action for Smokefree survey from last year showed almost 20 percent of Year 10s vape regularly.

But are the vape clouds on the horizon dark and angry, or do they have a silver lining?

There are record low numbers of teenagers smoking cigarettes, and vape proponents argue it's an immensely valuable tool for adult smokers trying to prise the tobacco monkey from their back.

The advice of the New Zealand medical establishment hedges its bets. Health Navigator New Zealand says "vaping may help some people quit smoking cigarettes, but it's not harmless, so if you don't smoke, don't start vaping".

To vape or not to vape has become a lively debate, but the most important point for either side is safety.

The latest evidence update by the UK Office for Health Improvement in 2022 says vaping is at least 95 percent safer than smoking.

However, the University of Auckland's Dr Kelly Burrowes says it's too soon to be sure about the potential long-term effects.

She's partway through a three-year period of funded research looking into the impacts vaping can have on the lungs, but says it's likely to be another decade before the science is there to say whether vaping is safe or not.

For now, she cautions a "better safe than sorry" approach.

"The real problem with answering any of these sorts of questions is that we don't know the long-term health effects of vaping yet," she said. "And I would say that it'll be another ten years or so until we really do understand that."

However, she said for now people need to examine the short-term effects of vaping.

"There's a lot studies coming out at the moment and a lot of them are showing that there are changes in how the cells of the lungs or how the lungs in general are working," she said. 

"One of the main things is that vaping causes inflammation... your body's normal response to anything foreign that comes into your body."

Listen to the full podcast episode for more on teens taking up vaping.

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