Young people at risk as new research highlights gateway from e-cigarettes to smoking
Cancer Council and the Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACOSH) are calling for an urgent inter-governmental crackdown on e-cigarettes to protect young people, following new research out of the UK showing a strong link between e-cigarette use in teens and smoking tobacco cigarettes.
The research, published in the journal Addiction, shows that 14-year-olds who use e-cigarettes are five times as likely to take up smoking by age 17 as non-e-cigarette users and three times as likely to be frequent smokers.
The new study tracked more than 10,000 adolescents from 2012 to 2019 and found that there was a strong relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking with dual use and gateway effects in both directions. Both e-cigarette and tobacco use in 14-year-olds were a catalyst for longer term use of both forms of nicotine.
These results are consistent with findings from Australian National University, which in 2020 examined 25 similar studies and concluded that the use of e-cigarettes by non-smokers led to a three-fold increased risk of taking up smoking, population-wide.
Chair of Cancer Council’s Public Health Committee and Director of Cancer Prevention and Advocacy at Cancer Council NSW, Anita Dessaix, said “The UK findings are alarming because we are also hearing reports of rapidly increasing e-cigarette use among Australian school students.
“More than 24,000 illicit e-cigarettes were seized in NSW alone between January and March this year, an almost 10-fold increase on the same period in 2020. Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that young adults and adolescents are Australia’s largest e-cigarette users by age group.
“This study will be good news to the tobacco industry – they are heavily investing in e-cigarettes and this will translate into more cigarette sales in the long-run, which is clearly part of their business strategy.”
“The findings show why e-cigarettes are the gift that keeps giving to the tobacco industry, hooking children and teenagers on nicotine, while the industry pretends it plans to phase out the sale of tobacco products.”
From 1 October, new nicotine prescription arrangements come into effect, which the Australian government says will make it easier to enforce border controls on illegal nicotine imports and be more consistent with state and territory health laws and regulations.
Maurice Swanson, ACOSH Chief Executive said that strong Government action is needed in light of these new findings.
“Cancer Council and ACOSH are calling for the Federal government to crack down on the unlawful importation of e-cigarette products and for state governments to enforce the rules in the retail sector to protect our young people.
Mr Swanson said “It is not clear how all government authorities will address this public health crisis threatening the health of young Australians. What is clear is that nicotine is extremely addictive and strong action will be required from all Governments to ensure the intent of the new legislation translates to the outcomes we need.
“We do not want to see a new generation of nicotine addicts and smokers among our youngest and most vulnerable.”
Ms Dessaix explained that Australia had a record in tobacco control we could be proud of, including currently low smoking rates in 12 – 17-year-olds.
“Fewer than 5 percent of Australian teens smoke – that is a number we should be proud of and need to protect, yet we are at serious risk of this number increasing.
“Unlike the UK, the use of nicotine e-cigarettes in Australia is unlawful without a prescription, so Australia at least has policy settings in place and these need to be implemented and enforced.”