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'Seduced by it': NZ is in a vaping epidemic, top principal says

Newshub logo Newshub 14/06/2022 Mark Quinlivan
Tim O'Connor spoke to Melissa Chan-Green. © Video - AM; Image - Getty Images Tim O'Connor spoke to Melissa Chan-Green.

A tobacco harm reduction advocacy group has hit out at the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation, saying its anti-vaping hysteria will only send more youths back to smoking.

This week, the foundation (ARFNZ) released its Spotlight On Vaping video series aimed at starting conversations around vaping.

"New Zealand is experiencing an epidemic of youth vaping," ARFNZ chief executive Letitia Harding said in a statement. "The foundation is regularly contacted by parents, teachers and principals who are really worried about the impact vaping is having on our teens."

'Seduced by it': NZ is in a vaping epidemic, top principal says
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But the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) has disputed those claims, saying vaping wasn't getting young non-smokers hooked.

However, one of New Zealand's leading headmasters, Auckland Grammar School principal Tim O'Connor, believed the country was in a vaping epidemic.

It comes after a new Life Education Trust study found some teenagers were consuming as much nicotine daily from vapes as half a pack of cigarettes. 

O'Connor said vaping was an issue proving far more problematic than smoking.

"Anecdotally, what I'm seeing in our school is… a growing number of young men who are vaping," O'Connor told AM.

"The boys have become seduced by it. We're seeing non-smokers enter into a marketplace that we've never seen before."

He said vaping at school was "absolutely" an epidemic.

"I think what we're seeing is, actually, vaping driving students potentially towards tobacco."

O'Connor, speaking to AM host Melissa Chan-Green, thought the vaping industry was targeting teenagers.

In three years, vaping product use in teens aged between 15 and 17 had almost tripled, New Zealand's latest health survey suggests.

O'Connor said the amount of nicotine in vaping products needed to be limited.

He said the legal age needed to be raised to 21, or make vaping products prescription-only for anyone under that age.

"The concern for us is the growing number who are trying it. We are seeing a number of students admitting… that they are addicted," O'Connor said. "That's a small number, at this point, but the consequence is going to be in five years and 10 years and 15 years and, then, I think we'll look back on an interview like this and say, 'Actually… There was a problem and we should've actually done something about it then.'"

But the CAPHRA said there was hysteria being stirred up around vaping.

In a statement, the coalition said vaping had been attributed to New Zealand's declining rate of smoking.

A survey earlier this year found teenage smoking rates had fallen to record lows in New Zealand - accompanied by an increase in daily vaping from 3.1 percent of year 10 students in 2019 to 9.6 percent last year. 

"New Zealand has Smokefree 2025 in its sights," CAPHRA executive coordinator Nancy Louca said. "If NZ wants to be the envy of the world, achieving an overall smoking rate of 5 percent or less, then let's not attack the very thing that will enable such success."

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