A new study shows about a third of Kiwi high school students have tried vaping, but two thirds of those had never smoked tobacco.
The study was carried out by researchers from four New Zealand universities in 2019, and included 7700 adolescents aged between 13-18 in 52 Auckland, Northland and Waikato schools.
The universities involved in the research were the University of Auckland, Victoria University Wellington, University of Otago and AUT.
Vaping has been recommended as an alternative to smoking tobacco by the Government and health agencies, but they are trying to steer away from people taking up vaping if they are not already smokers - especially young people.
About ten per cent of the students surveyed said they vaped regularly, and six per cent said they vape weekly or more often.
Males were more likely to vape than females, and students from lower decile schools were more likely than those from higher decile schools.
Researchers cited a recent New Zealand study which showed the long-term decline in smoking among Year 10 students, which began in 2000, had stalled in 2015, and that it may even be reversing.
University of Auckland's Associate Professor Terryann Clark, the study's co-author, said putting the findings of the two studies together may call into question the idea that vaping is displacing smoking.
"The alternative possibility, that vaping is fuelling smoking, must be taken seriously by communities and policymakers," Ms Clark said.
The researchers said measures to protect youth, and Māori and disadvantaged youth in particular, were needed, such as limits on where vapes and tobacco can be sold and a ban on vaping advertising and sponsorship, including online and social media promotion.
They said the research is timely considering the Government is currently consulting on new vaping regulations.
Co-author Dr Terry Fleming from Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Health - said New Zealand currently has fewer restrictions on vaping promotion and flavours than other countries.
"Supporting smokers to step down to vaping and non-smokers to stay that way are both important - this is possible with good policy and leadership," Mr Fleming said.