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Study Shows Nearly a Third of Young Australians Use E-cigarettes and Have Easy Access to Them

Joymy Reports-- In addition to growing evidence about the effects of e-cigarette smoking on young Australians, new research finds that nearly a third of 14- to 17-year-olds report smoking e-cigarettes, according to a foreign newspaper.

In addition, the study - a collaboration between the Cancer Council of New South Wales and the University of Sydney, with funding from the Mindray Foundation, the state of New South Wales and the Australian government - found that most young Australians find it easy to access nicotine e cigarette products.

Researchers Paul Grogan, Associate Professor Becky Freeman and Anita Dessaix of the GenVape project shared their findings, calling on the Australian government to restrict all e-cigarettes, both nicotine and non-nicotine, outside of the TGA prescription route

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Nearly one-third of 14- to 17-year-olds reported vaping nicotine products, and about half of them had never smoked before.

In addition, most young people find it easy to access nicotine e-cigarette products, according to new research from the GenVape Project.

The GenVape Project is the first study of young people's, parents' and teachers' experiences with e-cigarettes before and after the independent Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia introduces simplified nicotine prescription rules to protect young people from the dangers of e-cigarettes from October 1, 2021.

The first report of the GenVape study - a collaboration between the Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney, with funding from the Mindray Foundation, NSW and the Australian Government - was released in September.

While the TGA rules are intended to facilitate access only to individuals who believe e-cigarettes may help them quit smoking, the majority of e-cigarette users are young adults and teens who do not use e-cigarettes to quit smoking.

Restricting smokers' access to e-cigarettes has been complicated by the proliferation of e-cigarettes that claim to be nicotine-free, but many have been found to contain nicotine and other highly dangerous substances when tested in laboratories.

The first report focused on adolescents through a cross-sectional survey of 721 individuals aged 14 to 17 years recruited through an online panel. It provides new evidence highlighting growing concerns about e-cigarette use and related health hazards among young people.

A growing body of evidence and media coverage over the past two years suggests that adolescents have easy access to e-cigarettes, despite the TGA's prescribed rules and the illegality of selling all e-cigarette products to minors.

One-third of the teens who participated in the survey had smoked e-cigarettes. Of those, four out of five said it was easy to mix e-cigarette use through multiple, interconnected channels.

Among those who used e-cigarettes but did not purchase their last e-cigarette, most got them from friends or other social contacts.

Of the 30% who purchased e-cigarettes, 49% did so from a friend or other person, and nearly one-third (31%) purchased from a gas station, tobacco store or convenience store. Teens also purchase e-cigarettes through social media, e-cigarette stores or websites.

Teens report that flavor is the primary driver of product preference. Among the most popular varieties were teen-friendly flavors, such as bubble gum, desserts, fruit and energy drinks.

Teens reported a preference for disposable e-cigarettes (80%) because of their ease of use and low cost, with one disposable e-cigarette providing hundreds of vapes for only $5.00.

Respondents observed that disposable products are advertised as suitable for beginners. More than half said they were aware that e-cigarettes contain nicotine, while a quarter did not know if the product contained nicotine.

A systematic evaluation by the Australian National University this year found that smoking e-cigarettes triples the risk of smoking for non-smokers.

Studies have shown that e-cigarettes are the strongest risk factor for smoking and vice versa.

Young people who were identified as having ever smoked e-cigarettes were 18 times more likely to smoke e-cigarettes compared to those who had never smoked e-cigarettes. Among former e-cigarette smokers, more than half had never smoked before.

This suggests that there is no one-way relationship between e-cigarette smoking and smoking among young people, that e-cigarette smoking may not preclude subsequent initiation of smoking, and that dual use of cigarette and e-cigarette products is common.

The use of other legal and illicit harmful substances by young Australians is steadily declining.

So why is e-cigarette use going the other way?

Four things make e-cigarettes different.

They are made for and aimed at young people.

Despite policies designed to protect young people from e-cigarettes, commercial entities and entrepreneurs are clearly breaking the rules.

Without laboratory testing, it is impossible to tell which e-cigarettes contain nicotine and which do not, which complicates enforcement (non-nicotine e-cigarettes do not legally require a prescription).

E-cigarettes are the only harmful product being advertised as a solution to the problem they are creating.

These four things did not happen by accident. They are all the result of ruthless exploitation by commercial interests that recognize that mass-produced, addictive over-the-counter products are lucrative in a way that no other industry is.

Government inaction in enforcing and tightening existing rules designed to protect young people from the short- and long-term harms of e-cigarettes has created both an e-cigarette market opportunity and a crisis for young people.

The law is clear. Nicotine e-cigarettes can only be legally used by individuals with a doctor's prescription, as with other controlled substances (nicotine for vaporization is a Schedule 4 controlled substance because of its high toxicity and addictive properties).

Any vaporized nicotine product imported without medical clearance should be confiscated at the border, just as authorities have done with other Schedule 4 substances.

This is federal law, but it is not enforced. Any retailer selling nicotine vaporized products other than pharmacies is in violation of state and territorial laws, but these laws are also poorly enforced.

Online and social media sales are also illegal because, at some point, a controlled substance is transported, stored or sold in violation of jurisdictional laws.

Studies and other research indicate that mislabeling of e-cigarettes is common. The need for laboratory testing of products before they can be confiscated complicates enforcement.

The solution is simple. Remove e-cigarettes from the market that claim to be nicotine-free or are not labeled as containing nicotine. They are sold under the shadow of misinformation about e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking - when they have no place in smoking cessation - they are full of harmful toxins and geared toward children.

Removing them would make it easier to capture nicotine e-cigarettes under established rules and help ensure that only individuals with a prescription can use them.

The youth e-cigarette users in the study were acquiring e-cigarettes through organized commercial interests, regardless of their primary source. Key access points (importers, wholesalers, online, social media, over-the-counter sales) were evident and facilitated the illegal sale of harmful, addictive products to children on a commercial scale.

A new generation of young Australians is facing lung damage and nicotine addiction. It also risks ruining decades of success in youth and adolescent tobacco control.

The Australian government must take immediate action to restrict all e-cigarette use, both nicotine and non-nicotine, outside of the TGA prescription route. This will not only prevent children, young people and non-smokers from having easy access to harmful products, but will also strengthen prescription-only policies.