Chronic stress linked to big rise in vaping by teens

The average age for first-time use of e-cigarettes is 14. And the trend for use among teens is steeply upward. Which isn't cool.

The average age for first-time use of e-cigarettes is 14. And the trend for use among teens is steeply upward. Which isn't cool. Photo: TND

What can be done to stop Australian teenagers from vaping?

When you have 13-year-olds calling the Quitline for help with their fruity, tasty and toxic vaping addiction, we’ve clearly graduated to dealing with a “health emergency” if not a crisis.

This week, the Medical Journal of Australia reported that more than one in four Australian teenagers (26 per cent) had vaped in the past 12 months.

The average age of first use was 14. About 6 per cent of teens habitually vaped.

The figures were from a University of Sydney study involving 4200 young Australians aged from 14 to 17.

The journal paper said “urgent efforts” were needed to reduce the uptake of e-cigarettes by Australian teenagers.

No kidding. A national survey back in 2019 found that 10 per cent of Australians aged 14 to 17 had used e-cigarettes.

In other words, the upward trend is well established and seemingly immune to intervention.

What to do?

On Tuesday, Health Minister Mark Butler announced that vaping products would carry graphic warnings on the packaging – presumably along the lines of the cancerous mouths and toes that have prettified cigarette packets for some years.

The legislation aims to uglify vaping by limiting the use of appealing names and cute packaging that appeals to teens.

In May, Butler introduced reforms designed to make it easier for people to get a prescription for ‘legitimate’ therapeutic use of e-cigarettes – which have helped some people give up smoking tobacco.

But there was equally a strong focus on taking vapes out of the mouths of children. Certain flavours, colours and ingredients were banned, and the amount of nicotine restricted.

“These are supposed to be pharmaceutical products,” Butler told the National Press Club.

“They have to present that way – no more bubblegum flavours, pink unicorns or vapes disguised as pens for kids to hide in pencil cases. Instead, we will have plain packaging with plain flavours.”

See our explainer of those laws and why they were needed.

Vaping and mental illness

Many young people use vaping as a medication for stress and anxiety, lead author Dr Lauren Gardner told the ABC.

The research comes from the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use.

Dr Lauren Gardner, lead author.

Gardner told the national broadcaster: “We’re looking at emerging evidence here, but it is showing associations between vaping and poorer mental health outcomes, like anxiety and depressive symptoms.

“So, really the focus has got to be on correcting some of those misconceptions and providing that evidence-based facts and skills to resist that peer pressure.”

She noted there was likely cynicism about the government’s reforms. But Gardner said it was too early to tell if they were working or not.

In fact, there is accumulating evidence that vaping causes mental illness, rather than curing it.

A regular dose of exercise would be more effective.

Chronic stress

On Tuesday, as Butler announced his latest initiatives, a new paper was presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Milan.

The authors found that young people “who have used e-cigarettes are more than twice as likely to report experiencing chronic stress”.

The study was presented by Dr Teresa To, a senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. Her previous research found that children who vaped were more likely to suffer asthma attacks.

For the new study, the researchers used data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey. This is a national survey designed to represent the Canadian population.

It included 905 people aged between 15 and 30 years. Of these, 115 (12.7 per cent) said they had used e-cigarettes.

Curiously, the data showed that “young people who vaped were more likely to be physically active”. But they were also more likely to report experiencing “extreme chronic stress in their lives”.

“Chronic stress can lead to mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression,” To said.

She said it was important for young people experiencing chronic stress to be given support early on. This would help them “avoid resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms like vaping or smoking”.

“Vaping is not an effective way to cope with stress,” she said.

But stress and anxiety “can trigger vape cravings, and make it harder for a user to quit”.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.