Cutting to the core of vaping

I have a lot of friends who vape. They sit there at home, or in bars inhaling flavoured nicotine laden plumes of vapour.

Every 2 or 3 minutes that little USB looking stick presses against their lips, and then a white cloudy haze blankets the area. Look, I’m not complaining about being around them … I’d much rather come away from a chat smelling like a strawberry instead of an ashtray.

What gets me is how many non-smokers have picked up the habit.

I remember going away for a new year holiday a few years ago. Our group of friends walked past a vape store, and one of my mates suggested buying a vape for the occasion. He was a non-smoker, and despite my protest that he was about to buy a nicotine filled tool intended to help him quit smoking … he still went ahead and bought it anyway. He still vapes today, still addicted to the fruity and “less harmful” vapour. He’s not alone, and it turns out many of our teens have a similar story. 

A 2021 Asthma and Respiratory Foundation survey found nearly 20 percent of secondary school students are vaping daily, or several times a day. The students we spoke to back that up. Gone are the days of smoking behind the bike sheds, vaping has now become a right of passage. 

Principals across the country have called it an “epidemic”, with kids as young as 10 getting hooked. But unlike my non-smoking friend who knew most vape devices are filled with nicotine, many of these kids don’t, and they’re easy to get. 

On this week’s episode of ‘The Core’, we sent a 15-year-old actor into eight different shops to buy vape pods. She visited five dairies, one petrol station and two specialist vape stores. Out of the eight she visited, six of them sold to her. She was clearly underage, and there were no questions asked. 

One expert told us there are more than 500 vape shops in New Zealand, many of them within walking distance from schools.

The Ministry of Health admits vaping isn’t completely risk-free, but says it’s much less harmful than smoking, and the government is celebrating its success in decreasing smoking rates. But it’s only a success if people quit the vape as well. In my view, they’ve just moved the problem. Yes, e-cigarettes and vapes have helped wean some people off the smokes, but their widespread availability has started a game of addiction whack-a-mole. We stub one problem out, while another pops up in its place. Switching from smoking to vaping isn’t the problem, what is, is the ongoing addiction to it. The fact that non-smokers are picking it up and the fact that non-smoking teens are getting addicted is even worse. There are support services for smokers looking to quit, but where do you go for help to get off the vape? 

Yes, there are now laws and regulations in place, but by the time they were introduced in 2020, the horse had already bolted, and a generation of Kiwis was already hooked.

We need to go harder. 

Making them prescription only is one suggestion, putting a much lower cap on the nicotine levels and limiting supply is another. But will those actually work, and what are the health effects if we do nothing? 

To find out, listen to this week’s episode of ‘The Core’. 

You can listen to Wilhelmina Shrimpton’s investigation into vaping during The Core 7 - 8pm on Today FM Monday 11th April. 

You can also listen on-demand as a Today FM podcast - subscribe here

New episode is out every Monday.