A new population of smokers?

woman vaping in a restaurant

Relaxing current regulations on e-cigarettes is unlikely to result in further smoking cessation in young adults as most are using them for enjoyment, say Australian researchers

Among Australian young adults – both current cigarette smokers and non-smokers – use of electronic nicotine delivery systems such as e-cigarettes is mainly done for enjoyment, according to new research published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia.

Based on results from an online survey administered to 1116 Australians aged 18-25 (59% female), only one in 10 e-cigarette users were using the devices for smoking cessation purposes.

The most commonly reported reason was enjoyment and fun.

Lead author Dr Michelle Jongenelis, from the School of Psychology at Curtin University, said the popularity of e-cigarettes is growing rapidly around the world.

“Multiple types of electronic nicotine delivery systems such as e-cigarettes, e-cigars, e-hookahs, and e-pipes are now available in the community,” she said.

“At the population level, concerns have been raised that the widespread introduction of these products may encourage smoking-related behaviours.”

The survey results showed 67% of smokers and 28% of non-smokers had previously used an electronic nicotine device.

Nineteen percent of smokers and 6% of non-smokers were current users of e-cigarettes.

Around one quarter of current users reported using the devices daily.

The survey results found that male smokers were more likely to have ever used e-pipes (p = 0.039) and be current e-cigarette users (p = 0.009).

Male non-smokers were also more likely to have used at least one alternative electronic nicotine delivery system (p = 0.014) and e-pipes (p = 0.039).

Dr Jongenelis expressed concern that young males are “particularly vulnerable” to both trialling electronic nicotine systems and becoming regular e-cigarette users.

“Our study suggests electronic nicotine delivery devices such as e-cigarettes are being trialled and used by young Australians at substantial levels and few users are actually using the devices to quit smoking,” she said.

“Greater efforts are needed to educate young adults on the harms associated with electronic nicotine delivery systems use, especially if use is being driven by the perception that they are a harmless means of amusement,” say the authors from Curtin University, Cancer Council Western Australia, and the University of Western Australia.

They point out that there is insufficient data on the long-term health consequences of their use.

“Results also suggest that few young adult e-cigarette users are using these devices to quit smoking … supporting concerns that e-cigarettes are not discouraging use of traditional cigarettes and may be contributing to a new population of smokers.”

The survey results come as The Guardian reveals tobacco giant Philip Morris International is reportedly lobbying for the government to overturn Australia’s ban on nicotine e-cigarettes.

Philip Morris International, owner of six of the world’s 15 biggest cigarette brands, is reportedly in the midst of a significant push to grow global sales of its e-cigarette products.

Following Coalition MPs pressure to overturn the e-cigarette ban, Health Minister Greg Hunt has recently agreed to an independent inquiry into the health impacts of nicotine e-cigarettes.

Minister Hunt has consistently opposed an overturn of the ban, telling the party room it is strongly opposed by health groups including the Australian Medical Association.

“It’s not going to be happening on my watch as far as I’m concerned,” he told ABC program Hack late last year.

“It’s big tobacco which is arguing the case for these e-cigarettes and they’re only doing it because it’s in their interests.

“I have a very strong, clear, categorical view that this is not something that should occur in Australia.”

See the full APJA paper here (login required)

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