Open Access
Feature Article

Vaping in young people: lives up in smoke

Open Access
Feature Article

Vaping in young people: lives up in smoke

VIKRAM PALIT, BRONWYN MILNE, MOYA VANDELEUR

Figures

© PHANIES/VOISIN/DIOMEDIA.COM MODEL USED FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES ONLY
© PHANIES/VOISIN/DIOMEDIA.COM MODEL USED FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES ONLY
Dr Palit is a Fellow in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine at Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne; and a Senior Lecturer in Health Services Management, School of Population Health, UNSW Sydney. Dr Milne is a Staff Specialist in Adolescent and Addiction Medicine at the CICADA Centre (Care and Intervention for Children and Adolescents affected by Drugs and Alcohol), Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, Sydney, NSW. Dr Vandeleur is a Staff Specialist in Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Vic.

Abstract

E-cigarette use (‘vaping’) is increasing among adolescents and young people in Australia but carries significant health risks and is subject to strict regulations. GPs are well positioned to identify their young patients who use e-cigarettes, assess and intervene early to help reduce vaping-related harms.
Note
The report of an Australian case of EVALI (e‐cigarette or vaping product use‐associated lung injury) referred to in this article was published on 4 October 2021. The online full text and PDF versions (see link above) of this article have been updated with the reference.

Key Points

  • E-cigarette use (‘vaping’) is increasing in popularity among young people in Australia.
  • Vaping is associated with multiple adverse health effects, including increased risks of respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease and nicotine addiction, and there is growing evidence that e-cigarette use is a precursor to conventional tobacco smoking.
  • Australia has a strong regulatory framework that limits the use, supply and availability of e-cigarettes and vaping devices.
  • Assessment of young people is key to preventing harms - ask about vaping, screen for patterns of use and assess risk to identify any comorbid physical or mental health issues.
  • E-cigarettes should not be recommended as smoking cessation aids in young people.

The uptake of e-cigarette use, or ‘vaping’, among adolescents and young people in Australia is a problematic trend. Although e-cigarettes are touted as a safer alternative to tobacco smoking and glamourised on social media, they have significant health risks.  

This article aims to inform GPs about the health risks of vaping and the regulatory framework for vaping in Australia, including recent legislative changes. It outlines an approach to assessment and intervention in young people who use e-cigarettes. Engaging young people, educating them about the harms and intervening early offers the greatest opportunity for positive behaviour change in adulthood. Working together across health and social care, we can prevent a new generation being exposed to the adverse effects of nicotine.

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What are e-cigarettes? 

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that come in many shapes and sizes but have the same basic components (Figure 1).1 They produce an aerosol by heating a liquid, known as e-liquid or e-juice, to produce vapour that users inhale, commonly referred to as vaping. E-cigarettes are also known as e-cigs, e-hookahs, mods, vape pens, vapes, juuls, tanks, sticks, stigs and, in academia, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). The composition of e-liquid varies, but it typically contains solvents, additives and flavouring agents and may or may not contain nicotine. 

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