When tobacco smoking started falling out of favour with young Aussies, both parents and teachers breathed a long, deep, clean-air filled sigh of relief.
That is, until vapes entered the market and exploded in popularity.
If you’re not familiar with vaping, it’s “the act of smoking e-cigarettes, or vapes, which are lithium battery-powered devices that look like metallic wands, USBs or other hand-held devices,” explains the Lung Foundation in their Vaping and Young People (for educators) Fact Sheet.
Vapes come in three main categories – minis, closed pods, and refillable – each containing cartridges filled with a flavoured liquid that typically (but not always) contains nicotine.
When a vaper inhales, the liquid heats and turns into an aerosol, entering the lungs and bloodstream.
(Source: Lung Foundation’s ‘Vaping & Young People – for educators’)
So what’s behind the explosion in popularity of vapes among Aussie Gen Zs?
First off (surprise, surprise), there’s the viral social media trends involving vapes amping up the novelty factor.
Secondly, they’re much more affordable than regular cigarettes in Australia and taste better, coming in (yummy) flavours such as mango, berry or peppermint.
Thirdly, it’s an opportunity to rebel (as with tobacco products, it’s illegal to sell vapes to people under the age of 18 and to vape on school grounds).
And finally, there’s the misconception that vaping is relatively harmless.
And therein lies the problem.
The vape debate
“There’s all of these things that are making (vapes) incredibly appealing to young people,” Erskine Park High school principal Brenda Quayle told ABC News.
“(But) because we don’t know the long-term health impacts, I’m very concerned in the next 30, 40 or 50 years’ time that this will be the next big health crisis.”
The concerns have spurred some Aussie schools into somewhat controversial action, with some installing vape detectors inside bathrooms.
If triggered, these vape detectors alert teachers via email – who can then lock students inside the bathroom so they can be searched for vapes.
St Bede’s College in Mentone, Melbourne is one school that’s installed them.
Deputy principal Mark James told news.com.au “of course staff don’t want to be checking the toilets, but we try and do everything in our power to stop the kids from engaging in activities that are harmful to themselves.”
The approach has polarised teachers, parents and the health industry – like the Lung Foundation, which advised a more holistic approach that involves education alongside campus-wide policies.
“As teachers, educators and those working in learning settings, the best advice is to address vaping as part of a broader social, health and drug education context,” says the Lung Foundation.
“(Schools should) implement comprehensive tobacco and vape-free policies campus-wide that run alongside education and support programs, particularly for those young people who are already nicotine addicted.
“Teachers, support staff and administrators should also be up to speed on the latest knowledge, including the types of vapes on the market and the risks they pose.”
Here are some tips the Lung Foundation suggested for talking with Gen Zs about vaping:
- It’s crucial to be patient. Avoid criticism and be open and honest when confronting young people about vaping. There should be an emphasis on easy discussion and mutual receptivity in a safe, caring and understanding space.
- Stick with the facts. Steer clear of overreaction and keep the emotion out of it. A good method is to assist young people to make their own informed decisions around the issue. Emphasise the way in which the tobacco industry covertly manipulates them through glossy imagery and savvy marketing. If nicotine addiction is involved, work with them in an open and honest healing space and build rapport to start getting them the help they need.
- Above all, always deal with the facts. Make sure to underline the health issues and demonstrate authentic care in a non-judgmental setting.
(Source: The Lung Foundation)