Vaping among non-smokers in times of Covid: time for NZ to notice teen vaping rates

While vaping is much less harmful than cigarette smoking it is not harmless. In times of Covid and lung disease we should be especially mindful of this, writes Associate Professor Terry Fleming.

Vape smoke

New Zealand has unusually loose regulations about vaping and vaping promotion, Vapes are everywhere! The look and feel of vaping advertising is notably similar to the cool and sexy feel of highly successful cigarette smoking campaigns which have been long illegal. Vaping normalizes putting something in your mouth and smoking it. While we must utilize the power of vaping for reducing harm for smokers, we need to not naively walk into a new generation of harm. We know very well that education and health promotion messaging has little impact on its own. We also need to be enforcing regulation of vapes.

In our new paper, out this week, from the Youth19 survey of 7721 New Zealand secondary school students, we found that vaping is strikingly normal among non smokers:

  • 10% of students vaped regularly (monthly or more often) and 6% vaped weekly or more often, compared with 4% and 2% respectively for tobacco smoking.
  • More than 80% of ever vapers reported they were non-smokers when they tried vaping. Nearly half of regular vapers and over a third of weekly vapers had never smoked. This translates to about 15,000 regular vapers and 6,700 weekly vapers in the secondary school population who have never smoked.
  • Nicotine-containing e-cigarettes were sometimes or always used by 80% of regular and 90% of weekly vapers.
  • Vaping did not follow the same social gradient as seen with smoking.
  • Weekly vaping was more common in Māori (7.7%) and European (7.6%) students than those of other ethnicities.
  • Vaping often starts young. We found 22% of Year 9 students (aged 13-14) had already tried vaping, compared with 6% having tried smoking at the same age. Among Year 12 students (16-17 years), 46% had tried vaping, 14% vaped regularly and 11% vaped weekly or more often.

The full paper is available here:

Dr Terry Fleming
Associate Professor, School of Health