With cigarettes on the backburner, vaping is the new smoking

Vaping is increasingly popular. Picture: Ruslan Alekso from Pexels
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While the import and sale of vapes is now illegal in Victoria, their popularity might mean they won’t disappear from the lives of young people. Kayla Willson reports.

Most people remember the anti-smoking ads on television in the early 2010s. 

The bubble-wrap lungs being burnt and melted by a cigarette and Terrie H with her barely-there voice as a result of her smoking. 

Caleb Spackman, 19 from Melbourne, said he understands why so many of today’s young people have been turned off smoking and have instead taken up vaping. 

“I used to hate smoking because of those ads,” he says. He admits he smoked socially for a bit because it “tends to bring people together”.

Now he vapes. 

With cigarettes on the backburner, vaping is the new smoking
Social media is used to promote vapes.

“It’s satisfying and popular among my friends,” he said. 

Vaping – inhaling a flavoured vapour via a battery-powered e-cigarette – is being sold to young people in a way that heavily contrasts the way they were warned against cigarettes. 

Since October 1, new laws mean all nicotine vaping products can only be bought with a doctor’s prescription.

Despite Australia’s cautious approach toward e-cigarettes, social media sites are being used to promote such devices as a health-conducive or stop-smoking  aid.  

Twitter is being used in an attempt to change Australian regulation and advocate for the use of personal e-cigarettes. A tweet from Legalise Vaping Australia references the findings of a study by Yorkshire Cancer Research, in support of the use of vapes as an alternative to cigarettes. It said: “This attitude towards tobacco harm reduction will save lives.”

The National Drug Household Strategy Survey found that the number of Australians vaping has doubled since 2016. 

In 2019, 2.5 per cent of Australians were vaping, compared to 1.2 per cent in 2016 and there are now about 520,000 Australian vapers. E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid until it becomes an aerosol that users can inhale. This aerosol contains many different chemicals, and occasionally the highly addictive nicotine. 

Associate Professor Dr Alexander Larcombe, head of the Respiratory Environmental Health team at Curtin University, says that while nicotine is not the most dangerous component in vapes, it is highly addictive.

“Nicotine has a range of known effects on neurodevelopment. There is also evidence that adolescents may be more susceptible to the addictive effects of nicotine than adults,” he says.

A 2021 study into the impacts of vaping on the human body confirmed a range of harmful effects. 

While vaping directly affects your respiratory system through the inhalation of chemicals into the lungs, it can also increase cardiovascular risk and impair endothelial (lining of the heart and blood vessels) function. 

With cigarettes on the backburner, vaping is the new smoking
Data source: Lung Foundation Australia

Dr Larcombe said there is some overlap between what is in e-cigarette aerosol and cigarette smoke.

“While [nicotine] is not benign in terms of health effects, the other components of e-cigarette aerosols are likely much more harmful.”

Vape aerosols can include chemicals such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein, which are known to cause cancer. Some chemicals in e-cigarette aerosols can cause DNA damage.

Researchers from Curtin University and the Telethon Kids Institute tested the ingredients and toxicity of 52 e-liquids that could be bought in Australia. 

They found that 100 per cent of e-liquids (vape juices) had between one and  18 chemicals with unknown effects on respiratory health. As well, 65 per cent of vaped e-liquids contained chemicals likely to be toxic if vaped repeatedly.

Mr Spackman said the effects of the chemicals in cigarettes can sometimes be felt as you inhale, often turning people off smoking,

“I don’t smoke now mainly because of their taste and how they make you feel yuck. I used to smoke darts (cigarettes) sometimes, but cigarettes taste awful and make you feel ill.” 

The financial cost of smoking can often also be a motive for switching to vape or e-cigarettes. 

The Australian government heavily taxes cigarettes, which has contributed to substantial price increases over the past 10 years. 

With cigarettes on the backburner, vaping is the new smoking
Caleb Spackman vapes occasionally. Picture supplied.

Currently, the amount the government takes (via tax) is based on the number of cigarettes in each pack. From September 1, 2021, the dollar rate was 1.11905 per cigarette.

Research by the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association compared the cost of using vapes or e-cigarettes as opposed to smoking traditional cigarettes.

A 20 cigarette-a-day smoker could save over $9000 a year by switching to a refillable device, which makes vaping up to about 90 per cent cheaper than smoking.

Some organisations, including Legalise Vaping Australia, argue that vapes can help individuals quit smoking. Their Facebook page says it is often hard to stop smoking, but it is necessary to as smoking kills. 

“The proven most popular effective aid to quitting is ENDS – usually known as ‘e-cigarettes’ or ‘vaping’. ENDS give you the nicotine you want without the deadly tar and particles that smoking generates.” 

With cigarettes on the backburner, vaping is the new smoking

A/Prof Larcombe said vape use can, in some cases, lead to smoking or dual-use, and isn’t the best way to stop smoking.

“Vapes are not approved smoking cessation devices. None have gone through the rigorous processes required for this by bodies such as the TGA, he said.”

“There are other approved and tested therapies to assist in smoking cessation, such as nicotine patches or gums,” he said. 

Mr Spackman said that if more evidence came out, similar to the years of research into the effects of cigarettes, the popularity of vapes could decline.

“If there was solid proof that vaping is extremely bad for you like cigarettes, I would definitely quit vaping.”

“I think it started as a trend so it may end like one. But they’re also a lot nicer to use than cigarettes and everyone knows how bad they are for you, so it might stick around as an alternative.”

7 reasons why people vape

According to a vape distribution company Vapemate.

  • As a healthier alternative to smoking – vapes do not/are less likely to contain all the harmful chemicals within a traditional cigarette
  • For stress relief – for some vaping can be an outlet and help relieve stress and anxiety 
  • To save money – cigarette smoking is becoming more and more expensive, with a single cigarette costing 35 cents on average
  • Medical reasons – vaping can act as treatment for some medical conditions or illnesses
  • As a social behaviour most common among young people, the soaring popularity of vapes mean many want to take part and join the expanding community 
  • Because of the wide variety of flavours – instead of cigarette smoke, vapers can inhale anything from strawberries to roast chicken
  • Just as a new hobby