Vaping tricks are a social media phenomenon racking up hundreds of millions of views as a new survey finds parents are stressed about e-cigarettes but struggle to talk to their kids about them.
What was initially billed as a safer alternative to traditional smokes has since sparked serious concern after deaths and illnesses in the US linked to e-cigarette use and a lack of conclusive evidence about their impact.
The latest Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) Health poll found half of the 2000 parents surveyed supported a total ban on the supply, sale and use of all e-cigarette products in Australia.
RCH paediatrician and poll director Anthea Rhodes was unequivocal that e-cigarettes were not safe for teenagers, and said social media posts were making the act of smoking seem “cool” again.
What is vaping?
- Vaping is inhaling the vapour created by an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) or other vaping device
- E-cigarette users inhale the vapour in the same way as smoking a cigarette
- In Australia it is illegal for retail outlets to sell nicotine e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine for vaping
- It is easy to access nicotine for vaping from online sellers from outside Australia.
“Exposure of young people to use of e-cigarette products in ways that are seen to be fun, competitive, cool and on trend is actually giving even mainstream tobacco use a cooler image again,” Dr Rhodes said.
“It’s once again normalising and making it acceptable the idea of people inhaling something.
The health harms of e-cigarettes are real. These products contain a multitude of toxins and chemicals.’’
Almost 300,000 Australians use e-cigarettes, according to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, and there’s evidence to suggest it’s on the rise.
Critics have taken particular issue with the way it’s marketed, accusing big tobacco of trying to hook kids on vaping by promoting candy-flavoured e-cigarette juices.
And they argue cartoon-like characters and the use of social media influencers is “re-normalising” smoking to young Australians.
“There is growing evidence that e-cigarettes are an on-ramp for smoking in children and young people,” Cancer Council tobacco issues committee chairwoman Libby Jardine said.
“In recent years we have also seen the proliferation of shops selling enticing non-nicotine e-cigarettes and liquids with thousands of attractive flavours like green apple ice, cinnamon roll and alpha mint.
These are purely recreational products that have no place in our market for either kids or adults.’’
TikTok is the latest social media platform to sweep the globe and is dominated by teens and 20-somethings.
Videos promoting the #VapeTricks trend have amassed almost 300 million views on this platform alone, from both regular users and shops that sell e-cigarettes.
On Instagram, the hashtag has been used more than 5.4 million times.
The RCH Health poll found 73 per cent of parents were worried about vaping and its effect on kids, and 78 per cent thought advertising the products on social media should be banned.
Dr Rhodes said it was incredibly difficult to regulate what went on social media, and she urged parents to familiarise themselves with what was being posted.
“The competitions, in terms of actually creating different shapes and things with exhaling vapour, are often some of the more attractive things that kids will be watching,” she said.
“Have a discussion with a teen and young person about how this is a type of advertising, and this is intending to make you think these products are safe and cool.”
Despite the concern around the issue, only 43 per cent of parents said they had discussed the topic with their teenagers – far fewer than for drugs and alcohol.
The point that elicited the strongest support among respondents to the poll was for manufacturers to be made to test e-cigarettes for safety.
Dr Rhodes called for more education, saying vaping products were “infiltrating” Australia at an alarming rate.
“It’s time to revisit the regulation of e-cigarettes and related products, if we are to avoid an epidemic of vaping-related health harms in Australia.”