Wellington, November 24,2023
A handbook to help youth in New Zealand to quit vaping has been released.
Published by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ last week, the guide targets health professionals who work with adolescents and young adults (AYA) to tackle vaping and e-cigarette addiction. It aims to fill the gaps in support services offered to young people.
“We have been advocating for a long time for dedicated support services to help our young people quit vaping,” said Foundation Chief Executive Letitia Harding.
Though data shows 20% of high school students in New Zealand are regular vapers, services to curb smoking target their funding instead to 16-year-olds and above who want to stop or reduce their cigarette smoking.
“It’s our hope that these guidelines will assist health professionals to support AYA, who are now dependent on vapes, to become nicotine-free,” Harding pointed out.
The Foundation’s Maori Community Liaison, Sharon Pihema, said the lack of support services was a major obstacle for youth wanting to quit vaping.
“Our rangatahi and their whanau have been trying to get help from Quitline and their GPs, but with no funding allocated, they get no support. It’s almost as if they need to start smoking so they can get help to quit vaping.”
Pihema added that youth addicted to vaping needed “one-on-one support, a plan, and ongoing follow-up to make sure they can successfully quit vaping and lead healthier lives.”
The handbook was endorsed by Prof Hayden McRobbie of the University of New South Wales, an expert in the area of health behaviour change who has experience in managing tobacco dependence.
“There is currently a dearth of evidence for vaping cessation, however these guidelines provide some practical tips that health professionals will find helpful,” Prof McRobbie noted.
In June, the government introduced new measures to curb youth vaping, which included a ban on new stores from opening within 300m of a school or marae. But existing stores were allowed to remain in their original locations, many of which violated the new distance rule.
The Asthma Foundation’s Pihema urged the incoming government “to get some funding behind helping young people [to] quit vaping.”
“We have to do this for our kids. It’s our job to protect them. So if you’re in a position to make change, you should do that,” she stressed.
“Some of these students are as young as eight. It’s so normal in our community. A whole lot of young people [and] adults are doing it and these kids just see it as normal,” Pihema observed.
She recognised the challenge for schools struggling with the time and resources needed to manage students who vaped.
Vaping among young people had spiked in New Zealand ever since e-cigarettes and vaping products were introduced in the market in 2017. These products were often promoted as a substitute for cigarettes among adult smokers. But concern arose when the products became popular among the young, with 1 in 5 high school students regularly vaping.
In New Zealand, Maori students have the highest rates of regular vaping (34%) compared to other ethnic groups.
A 2022 online survey conducted across eight schools in Auckland, Dunedin and Gisborne revealed that the top five reasons behind youth vaping included “personal relaxation, enjoying the abundant flavours, considered it a way to connect and unwind with friends, finding amusement in learning vaping tricks, and genuinely liking it.”
An online survey of 95 teenagers and parents conducted at Christchurch Hospital yielded similar results.
The high incidence of vaping among high school students in New Zealand has been linked to a weak regulatory regime in terms of advertising and market accessibility of vaping products.
There is concern that high youth vaping rates could lead to nicotine addiction and its negative impacts.
Yet, there is little or no support for youth who want to quit vaping and aspire to become nicotine-free, health professionals noted.
The reference guide released by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ is a handy tool for those working with young people addicted to vaping and e-cigarette use.
Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington