E-cigarette use rising in NSW despite vapers saying they want to quit

2 June 2024

By Mary Ward, The Sydney Morning Herald

The number of people using vapes in NSW increased last year, but survey data suggests more than half are considering quitting in the next six months.

According to figures from the latest NSW Population Health Survey, published by the Ministry of Health on Friday, almost 19 per cent of people aged 16 to 24 identify as a current user of vapes, also known as e-cigarettes.

Self-reported vaping rates increased in every age group in the 2022-23 survey. However, among under-35s – who have the highest vaping rates – the increase in uptake was smaller than the previous year.

Federal and state governments are cracking down on vaping, amid concerns from health bodies that the devices have addicted a new generation to nicotine.

On January 1, the federal government banned importation of disposable vapes, commonly sold at convenience stores, regardless of whether they contained nicotine. Further import restrictions were introduced in March, seeking to limit vaping to solely a smoking cessation aid, prescribed by a doctor.

In the first quarter of 2024, NSW Health seized more than 124,000 illegal nicotine e-cigarettes from retailers.

The efficacy of these measures remains to be seen, but data from a second survey conducted by state health authorities, Cancer Institute NSW’s Smoking and Health Survey, suggests vapers are considering quitting their habit at the same rate as smokers.

Fifty-one per cent of vapers and 55 per cent of smokers were considering quitting in the next six months. One in five people who vaped said they had thought about quitting daily over the past two weeks.

The survey, conducted in mid-2023 and also published this week, interviewed 1200 adults from across the state, including smokers, vapers and those who did not smoke or vape.

It was the first time the survey, also conducted annually, had asked about vaping habits.

Cancer Institute NSW CEO Professor Tracey O’Brien said it was great to see that vapers were considering quitting at the same rate as smokers, as both could cause considerable health harms.

She said she was also particularly pleased to see more than 80 per cent of people aware of vapes agreed they were unsafe to use, up for 73 per cent in 2021.

“[It is] a sentiment we hope will continue to grow,” she said.

“There are ongoing efforts in NSW to educate the community about the harms of smoking and vaping and I applaud everyone working to prioritise their health and wellbeing.”

However, O’Brien said health authorities could not be complacent as vaping rates continued to increase, particularly among young people.

“Like cigarettes, vapes are also full of harmful chemicals that have been known to cause cancer and there is growing evidence that young people who vape are more likely to take up smoking, which can significantly increase their cancer risk,” she said.

“We are very concerned that a new generation of people will become addicted to smoking if vaping use continues to increase in young people, which is why it’s important that people avoid taking up vaping or seek help to quit.”

The Cancer Council NSW’s Generation Vape survey of teenagers aged 14 to 17 suggests a third have tried a vape, half of whom had never previously smoked a cigarette.

Last year, six young people presented to NSW emergency departments with symptoms including seizures, loss of consciousness and vomiting, after using vapes purchased on Snapchat. Department incident logs show state schools have dealt with several cases of students selling vapes.

A report on vaping published by the NSW Advocate for Young People in November found high school students wished nicotine vapes were harder to access, and wanted to receive help to quit without fear of punishment.

NSW Health Minister Ryan Park said he strongly supported the federal government’s vaping reforms.

“The overwhelming advice from medical experts is for a prescription model in which e-cigarettes can only be obtained for medical purposes,” he said.

“It’s encouraging to see that among young people who vape there is a strong desire to quit.”