Vaping is Now Endemic
18 March 2022
It gives me no pleasure to say that vaping is endemic, or that I told you so.
I spent 20 years more or less full time trying to get smoke-free air, which equated to fighting the tobacco industry, who were dedicated to selling as much tobacco as was possible with no regards for its health effects.
As I attended endless conferences at my own expense, there were parallel better funded conferences on the Quit issue, where a second tier of anti-smoking professionals went to conferences on nicotine replacement strategies.
Some of them ran Quit clinics on the model that people would come to them saying “I have a tobacco addiction problem, please help me wean off nicotine”. The Health Dept. set up and funded quite a number of these clinics. The tobacco industry did not object as they made little difference to the number of people who smoked or the ubiquitousness of the habit, and allowed the government to say that it was doing something, avoid doing something more useful and continue to get the tobacco industry’s political donations. As an enthusiastic smoking activist, I visited these clinics. I was always warmly welcomed by the health promotion staff running them who were always up to date on the latest tobacco control literature and happy to talk. It took me a while and some direct questioning to realise that the model was flawed; very few people came to the clinics and the staff were well read because they did not have much else to do. Eventually the government stopped funding them.
When the activists had reduced the credibility of the tobacco industry to laughing stock, and the deliberately long contracts of the sponsored sports and other apologists had run out, we managed to get rid of the advertising sponsorships and get smoke free air (with a generous definition of ‘outdoors’ to allow smoking in poker machine areas in pubs to keep the money engine ticking over). This was in 2000.
The vaping technology was being improved as part of this parallel Quit universe, and its medical protagonists were grateful that there was less tobacco use and hoped that the world would perceive their Quit efforts as the last stage in mopping up the smokers remaining, and they could take more of the limelight. Seeing the whole world from a Quit smoking perspective and possibly having attended a few well-funded conferences, they concluded that vaping would be good for quitting, and because it was much less harmful than burning leaves, it was a step in the right direction. The assumption that the only use of vaping was to get smokers to quit was naïve in the extreme. Some of the vape makers are the same companies that were happy to sell cigarettes, and now there are as many people starting smoking from vaping as leaving smoking for vaping.
But the key to vaping is that it is a new consumer product, with the potential to do immense public heath harm and to make massive profits. The economic engine is in place, the government apathy continues helped by the naïve abovementioned Quit doctors.
In the fight against tobacco, the fact that the ubiquitous ads affected children was self-evident, but like everything in the tobacco wars had to be proved, so a study was done which showed that the brand preference of kids was not the same as adults, but the brands chosen by kids were the ones most advertised.
But now marketing is much more sophisticated. Social media allows targeting by age, gender, location and even personal opinions and preferences. So kids can be reached without adults even being aware, and this is what has happened. Vaping has become ubiquitous, just as we were achieving a smoke-free generation. Now vaping will have to be shown to be harmful, rather than have to be shown to be safe. So the research will take years, be denied by its industry protagonists, and be subject to the venal indolence of the political process. Inhaling solvents with random additives is likely to be harmful, but this of course is not ‘proof’. The industry should have had to prove it was safe before it being released, but because the Quit people allowed tobacco to be the bar that it had to beat, it became legal without scrutiny, and now has become ubiquitous without being noticed.
I was therefore not happy but not surprised to read a schoolkid talking about vaping, and sadly he was also realistic enough to assume that the government was not likely to be of much help. Here is his article.
Vaping, a constant craving for too many of my school friends
Ari Katz, High school student
March 15, 2022, Sydney Morning Herald p19
It started as a novelty, a bit of harmless fun. The snap, crackle and pop of each nicotine-fuelled hit was exciting, enticing. The headspin was a new experience. We felt rebellious, revolutionary, cool. Vapes then started appearing at parties, the beach, the cinema.
But when friends started vaping regularly in the bathrooms at school, it became clear this device – resembling a coloured pen, bright and slim (concealing the fusion of wires, batteries and chemical compounds) – was here to stay.
During assessment-intensive periods at school, vapes act as a coping mechanism, a seemingly indispensable form of stress relief. Is this really the way we want our youth to be dealing with the challenges life throws at them?
The highly addictive, flavour-filled substances in vapes are engineered by profit-hungry foreign manufacturers who, I fear, pay little attention to the long-term health implications of their product.
What began as youthful self-discovery and experimentation has descended into a state of unfettered addiction among the adolescents – boys and girls – I know, some as young as 12. This is because vapes are too accessible, too easy. For me, having seen this obsessive relationship with vaping in all types of peers, including those who excel in sport or academic work, the extent of the issue becomes overwhelmingly clear. Vape addiction does not discriminate – everyone is susceptible.
So why should you care?
A Victorian father is warning parents about the dangers of having vapes near children after his son was hospitalised with what are believed to be the effects of smoking one.
The full negative health implications of vaping are as yet unknown. But the concern is that the recurrent inhalation of chemicals will do significant damage to the underdeveloped lungs and brains of teen vapers. However, from my perspective, far worse is the impact that this dependency and incessant craving has on the mental and social wellbeing of my peers. Teen brains aren’t prepared for the burden of addiction.
We know adults are largely oblivious to the scale of the problem, so how can we ask for help when we know the first reaction of the unprepared parent is likely to be a reprimand rather than a helping hand?
The cognitive dissonance of knowing vaping is harmful, while not being able to stop, is taxing on the mental wellbeing of adolescents. We have little experience of addiction and are not taught to deal with it. We know it’s harmful, we know it’s toxic, but we can’t stop.
Vaping is no longer a fad; the fun has been over for months now. From what I can see in my circle, few people who vape actually want to vape.
Government education campaigns will be largely impotent against the vape culture because addiction, by nature, does not just end by the push of a button. It takes personalised support, resources and encouragement to curb the dependency. Where is all this when we need it?
Vulnerable, developing brains are suffering at the hands of an insidious device, yet this challenge is only now starting to receive attention.
Seeing friends and peers suffer is shattering. This is Australia’s future we are talking about.
Ari Katz is a high school student in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs