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Vaping, e-cigarettes not going to be healthy in long-term, researcher warns as teen use rises

Vaping and e-cigarettes are not going to be healthy in the long-term, a researcher has warned, as more teenagers take up the alternative to smoking.

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Bioengineer Kelly Burrowes said it will be some time before research reveals the exact nature of the damage vaping causes. Source: Breakfast

In 2019, a survey of 30,000 year 10 students found more than a third had tried e-cigarettes, with three per cent saying they vaped daily — higher than the rate who consider themselves regular smokers.

As of earlier this month, no vaping signs must now be displayed in schools, kura, ECEs and kōhanga reo.

Hobsonville Point School principal Maurie Abraham says it’s harder to deter teenagers from vaping because it’s widely considered to be less harmful than cigarettes.

“I think we’ve been winning the battle with cigarette smoking with teenagers over the years,” he said.

“Vaping is a different beast. I would say 30 per cent plus of our young people would be regular vapers. Smoking cigarettes was harder to do at school because of the smell and the smoke. Vaping can be done without being seen, it can be done without any smoke or vapour.

“It’s really cool, because it’s a little USB design-looking gadget. It tastes cool and the message that has been out there is that it’s not as harmful for you as cigarette smoking. 

“It’s also a view [of it being less harmful] that their families would support.”

Kelly Burrowes from the University of Auckland's bioengineering institute has begun a three-year research project on vaping.

She says while science doesn’t yet know what the long-term health effects of vaping are because e-cigarettes haven’t been around long enough, there will be harm.

“A couple of main points: there’s going to be some harm from it. First, there are dangerous chemicals in there so it’s not water vapour as people used to think,” she said.

“There are a lot of different flavouring chemicals used, so these are chemicals that are safe to eat but no one has testing the safety of them for breathing in. There are also some different chemicals that can be created from the heating. There have been heavy metals found to have come off the parts of the device itself and obviously the nicotine.

“Some short-term studies on humans show there are harmful effects, so some of the things that are happening from smoking — but again, we’re not going to know until another 10 or 20 years.”

Burrowes said she hopes the research she has just begun will lead to advice or information to make vaping safer.

“The hope is that they will be safer than cigarettes, which have about 7000 different chemicals. E-cigarettes do have less chemicals,” she said.

“The main reason I got into it was to try and see how we could make vaping safer, come up with rules or information about how we can make it even safer for people.

“My main message is if people smoke, it’s a good idea to switch to vaping. But anyone who doesn’t not already smoke should not be starting to vape.

“I think there is fairly strong evidence there will be some negative health affects. We just don’t know what they’re going to be and especially how they’re going to compare to smoking. They’re [e-cigarettes] not going to be safe in the long-term.”

Abraham is one of many school principals eagerly anticipating the results of research liked Burrowes’ to give “validity” to his effort to discourage vaping.

“The kids are really interested in their health. That’s why we were winning with battle against cigarette smoking,” he said.