7 March 2024

‘You don’t need to vape to fit in’: perceptions of teenage vaping a load of hot air

| Claire Sams
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A smiling woman in a pink top in front of a hedge

PhD candidate Amelia Yazidjoglou warns not understanding teenagers’ attitudes towards and experiences of vaping means public health campaigns are unlikely to be effective. Photo: Elizabeth Roy.

Recent research has suggested a minority of teenagers have used vapes despite the common belief that their use is more widespread.

Led by Australian National University research assistant and PhD candidate Amelia Yazidjoglou, a team of researchers analysed interviews with teenagers between 14 and 17 years old in NSW.

“We looked at social norms, which are really important because they’re big drivers of behaviour,” said Ms Yazidjoglou.

“We needed to understand what’s driving adolescents [towards vaping] so we can make targeted health campaigns.”

The sample included teens who had used e-cigarettes and those who had not, and was based on data from the Generation Vape research project.

The project runs from 2021 to 2024 and is examining the use of e-cigarettes (also known as vapes) by young Australians.

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“They are seeing e-cigarette marketing and promotion – maybe on the street or online – but then also seeing vaping in public spaces,” Ms Yazidjoglou said.

“Those factors combined give the overall impression that the wider society approves or endorses that behaviour.

“That’s promoting the idea that to be a typical teenager, you need to vape.”

The study found vaping was normalised among teenagers, with several participants reporting that it was seen as part of being a ‘normal’ teen and were motivated to vape by a desire to fit in.

Another participant told interviewers they thought vaping was not overly harmful to their health after seeing friends do it.

Person vaping

New research on vaping suggests teenagers are seeing it as part of a typical teenager’s life. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Ms Yazidjoglou said research had also found a mismatch between the numbers of teenagers that vape and the reports of teenagers thinking it was more widespread.

A separate survey using data collected through Generation Vape found only 32 per cent of 14 to 17-year-olds in NSW had used e-cigarettes in 2021.

“One of the big influences on this is seeing e-cigarette marketing and promotion in a lot of different spaces,” Ms Yazidjoglou said.

“It gives you the impression that it is actually widely used and acceptable, and that doesn’t reflect what we’re seeing in the data.”

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Ms Yazidjoglou said the results show public health campaigns attempting to reduce teenage vaping rates may be missing the mark.

“If we’re going to make a public health campaign that sends a message that we need to empower teenagers to say ‘no’ around direct peer pressure, it’s unlikely to resonate.

“It’s not their lived experience.

“Instead, we need to reframe our messaging and say, ‘You don’t need to vape to fit in’.

“‘It’s not common, it’s not normal, and not everybody is doing this’.”

She said an alternative or expanded approach could involve restricting vape companies’ marketing or limiting vaping in public places.

In recent months, Australia’s laws around vapes have changed, including a ban on importing most disposable vapes from 1 January 2024.

Imports of all vapes by those without a licence and permit from the Office of Drug Control were banned from 1 March, while vapes can be prescribed by a doctor or nurse practitioner.

The study was published in the April 2024 issue of Health Promotion International and is also available online.

Generation Vape is led by the Cancer Council NSW in partnership with the Daffodil Centre and the University of Sydney, and funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, the NSW Ministry of Health, Cancer Institute NSW and Minderoo Foundation. Further information on vape regulation is available from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

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