Children as young as 12 are now addicted to vaping and are being stood down from school, as the youth vaping epidemic worsens.
Letitia Harding, Chief Executive of Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ, says these are not isolated cases, and it is sadly becoming a challenge that more and more families are facing.
“We have heard of young people being given vapes by family members because they feel it is easier to manage their kids by letting them suck on their vape than it is to take them off them,” Harding says.
“It just shows that there is still a lot of education needed to inform people that these products are highly addictive and not without harm.”
In June, the Ministry of Education showed school stand-downs for smoking and vaping went up almost 300 percent between 2019 and 2022, and in Wellington, up by 447 percent.
Sharon Pihema, the Foundation’s Māori Community Liaison Officer, says she has hosted workshops with Year 5 and 6 students because some were starting to vape.
“We need to start having conversations, early, with our young people to try and catch the problem before it starts.
“What’s also missing from the whole equation at the moment is how to quit vaping – that support is really lacking.”
New vaping restrictions come into force later this month, including reducing the maximum concentration of nicotine allowed in single-use vapes to 20mg/mL, and a ban on new specialist vaping shops being within 300m away of schools and marae.
“It’s great to finally see some changes that the foundation has been strongly advocating for come into effect, but more needs to be done – and it needs to be done now,” Harding says.
“With now over 1400 Specialist Vape Retailers (SVRs) listed on the Health Advisory and Regulatory Platform (HARP), it’s just a shame that it takes an election for the Government to listen.”
The foundation would like to see a ban on all disposable vapes (including those with removable batteries), no more SVRs set up, support for vaping harm education programmes for rangatahi, a nicotine content limit of 20 mg/mL for all vape products, a ban on all front-of-store advertising and displays of vaping products and to re-look at the nicotine-containing vapes prescription model.
Labour recently announced that if they were re-elected, they would cap the number of stores permitted to sell vapes to 600, and introduce harsher financial penalties for anyone selling vapes to under 18-year-olds.
National has said that Labour’s policy didn’t go far enough, but an announcement about how they will tackle the youth vaping epidemic is yet to come.
The Greens, ACT and the Māori Party are also yet to share their policies.
Research out of the UK earlier this year showed that at least 1.3 million disposable vapes are thrown away every week in the UK, equating to two vapes every second, with around one million not recycled.
“At the very least we would have thought the cost to the environment from vaping products might interest the Green Party,” Harding says.