It’s a problem that’s out of control.
Despite the warnings – repeated ad nauseam – about the health risks, the number of Kiwi teenagers vaping is soaring.
Auckland University researchers have found that half of all secondary school children have tried e-cigarettes, and 29 percent of them have become daily vapers.
They are easy to get, with around 3,000 websites selling them, mostly to teenagers.
E-cigarettes are nicotine-delivery devices that don’t contain tobacco, and don’t produce smoke or tar, and that’s what makes them so appealing.
Researcher Dr Chris Bullen said the risk of nicotine addiction was clear.
“There is an ongoing and significant rise in e-cigarette use amongst children which needs to be addressed,” he said.
So how can we stop our children from taking up this harmful habit?
We asked experts what we can do.
“Just say no” is what most parents tell their kids, but that doesn’t work.
“The reality is that many young people are going to take up vaping regardless of what adults think,” says Dr Chris Wilkins, a senior lecturer at Massey University’s School of Health Sciences.
Dr Wilkins says vaping companies sell their product on the idea of rebellion – that their products are cool, and being seen with them will make you popular.
He says adults have to understand that teenagers need to stand out from the crowd, and when vaping is so widespread, there’s little difference between a vaper and a non-vaper.
“It’s this sort of thing that makes not taking up something like vaping cool,” he says.
“If we want to stop young people taking up vaping, then we have to make it uncool.”
He says adults need to take a leaf out of the anti-smoking playbook, and highlight the risks for smokers.
“I’m not proposing that we tell lies to young people,” Dr Wilkins says.
“But we need to accept that many of them are going to vape regardless of what we say, so we need to keep them informed about the dangers.”
That’s something Eugene Livingstone agrees with.
He’s a senior in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Auckland, and he’s studied vaping in New Zealand.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that vaping is any safer than smoking,” he says.
He says vaping companies highlight only the benefits of switching from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes, but there are harms.
“There is some evidence to suggest that using e-cigarettes could make it harder to quit,” he says.
Dr Livingstone says e-cigarettes mimic the action of smoking, and they can be just as addictive.
“There is some evidence that young people who vape can become nicotine dependent,” he says.
He also says there is some evidence e-cigarettes can act as a gateway to smoking cigarettes.
“There is a suggestion that e-cigarettes might introduce young people to smoking,” he says.
Dr Livingstone says vaping companies are marketing their products to teenagers on social media and at events.
“Vaping companies use the same sort of marketing tactics that cigarette companies use,” he says.
“It’s all about cool and peer groups.”
So what can we do?
Both Dr Wilkins and Dr Livingstone say it’s up to adults to help young people understand the risks.
“Kids are going to take up vaping regardless of what adults think,” Dr Livingstone says.
“If we don’t talk to them about the risks, they might take up vaping, and then they’ll have a problem.”
He says parents should ask their kids, not whether they’re vaping, but whether they’re thinking about it. Additionally, parents need to keep an eye out for the warning signs that their child may be vaping.
And most importantly, don’t assume that just because your kids are talking to you, you’re talking to them.
“It’s about having the conversations,” Dr Livingstone says.
“If you don’t have the conversations, it will be much harder to convince your kids not to vape.”