Australia-first anti-vaping campaign uses threat of social harm, not cancer, to get its message across

10 June 2024

By Jake Evans, ABC News

A teenager hiding in a school bathroom stall, a man wheezing as he sits in the gym, a woman stressing as she tips out her handbag.

The nation’s first anti-vaping campaign isn’t the distressing, graphic images of people dying in hospital beds or failed organs on an operating table.

Instead, it asks young people who may have begun socially but find themselves soon hitting the vape routinely: “Why are we still doing this?”

The government’s latest $63.4 million anti-smoking campaign is the first to also target vaping, and specifically try to curb a return to rising smoking rates among younger people.

Almost one in 10 people aged 14 to 17 currently vape, a five-fold increase since 2019, and rates for 18 to 24 years have quadrupled in that same time to 21 per cent — the first generation in 25 years to buck the trend of declining nicotine use.

Targeting younger people, the campaign will be the first by the government to use TikTok, building on its earlier recruitment of several influencers to its cause.

It is also an acknowledgement that old advertising methods are not having the same effect on Generation Z.

In focus group research by the health department, it found more traditional campaigns on health harms were more easily deflected because people viewed vaping as a supposedly “healthier” alternative than smoking, even if they had not smoked before.

But what did cut through in regards to vaping were messages of addiction, loss of control and the mental health impacts and social isolation it could cause — which is why the government’s campaign has focused more on the pathway to addiction.

The government says its influencer campaign content has been viewed almost 7.7 million times already across 10 videos and posts.

Health Minister Mark Butler said the campaign hoped to discourage vapers before they became too dependent.

“Nicotine is highly addictive and before you know it, what starts as an occasional thing becomes something much more serious. But it’s never too late to quit,” Mr Butler said.

Major vape ban due to be voted on

At the start of this year, the federal government banned the import of single-use disposable vapes.

Further legislation to ban the import and sale of any vapes outside of pharmacies is currently before parliament, and due to be voted on in at the end of this month, with a planned start date of July 1.

If that bill passes, people will require a prescription to vape, and will only be able to buy regulated products from pharmacies.

The ongoing clampdown on smoking and vaping has, however, raised questions on whether it is helping to feed a black market, whose feuds have spilled onto suburban streets.

Mr Butler said there was no time to waste to prevent a new generation of addicts.

“All senators now have the once-in-a-generation opportunity and responsibility to act to safeguard the health of young Australians for generations to come,” he said.

“The best time to have done this would have been five years ago, but the second-best time is now.”

The advertising will run across television, audio platforms, gaming, cinema and on billboards nationwide until December.