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Another missed opportunity from The Project on vaping

Hāpai te Hauora is calling for TV show, The Project, to seek expert advice on vaping before developing unhelpful media content.

The Project released a poll last week to gauge perceptions on whether "parents would let their 16-year-old drink beer" and "whether they would let their 16-year-old vape". An overwhelming majority responded that they would rather let their kids drink than vape. Public health advocates believe this raises serious concerns on both the media’s role in generating constructive health debates and public misconceptions on both vaping and drinking.

Mihi Blair, General Manager of Tobacco Control, states: "This was a missed opportunity from The Project to pose useful, constructive questions around vaping. I am yet to meet a well-informed, rational parent would let their child vape- that’s certainly not what we’ve ever advocated for. But in reality, youth uptake is minimal and those who are vaping are more likely to smoke cigarettes which is much more dangerous. A good result would have been them contextualising vaping as a less harmful alternative to smoking and generating questions from this perspective."

Mihi Blair continues by explaining that public health advocates are still in "damage control mode", paying for the media’s harmful role in generating vaping myths. "People are trying to quit cigarettes and relying on media for their information on making better choices. So you can see why this irritates me- the media have an ethical and moral obligation to ensure they don’t just think about "clicks" and "headlines"- vaping has the potential to save lives but it’s hard to do that when there’s scare mongering about kids getting addicted".

Hāpai te Hauora CEO, Selah Hart, believes this poll also raises concerns around parents perceptions of alcohol as being less harmful than vaping; a myth which only reinforces the need to have informed media informing communities:

"What we have here is a comparison of two vastly different substances with two vastly different places in society. Alcohol has its culture so embedded in New Zealand social society that most parents wouldn’t think twice before allowing their children to consume alcohol, despite the severe impacts that it has on quality of life. Vaping, on the other hand has, since its inception, been lensed as a subsidiary of tobacco, every bit a cigarette as a pack of tailies. This speaks to the culture that these substances have in our society, and actually highlights the insidious nature of the alcohol industry and alcohol culture in how it avoids the burden of harm which it creates".

Whilst Hart acknowledges and celebrates the long-overdue changing perceptions around tobacco, she says it is more important than ever that we have informed parents making informed decisions. "It’s great that parents recognise the harm of tobacco, but vaping has never been promoted as a standalone, but rather as an effective harm minimisation tool alongside a number of other tobacco control strategies like supply reduction; so to pass it [Vaping] off as somewhat equivalent to alcohol is counterproductive to the Smokefree 2025 goal and actually perpetuates the burden of alcohol harm in our communities. This speaks to the issue of why we need informed media to inform our communities".

Mihi Blair recommends media entities like Newsworks engage with expert public health and community leaders before generating vaping content: "We would welcome the opportunity to work with media entities like Newsworks and offer a complementary workshop on hauora (health) issues like vaping and waipiro (alcohol). As a parent and someone whose career centers around achieving Smokefree 2025, there is ample evidence that vaping is a less harmful choice and one which I personally would encourage any whānau member to try in order to quit tobacco. Imagine how much closer we’d be in achieving Smokefree 2025 if the media also shared this vision and recognised their accountability to this goal".


Key facts

- Vaping can be a very useful smoking cessation tool. Vapes, also known as e-cigarettes, are effective as they stimulate aspects of smoking and deliver nicotine to users, but do not burn tobacco. This makes them far less harmful than cigarettes.

- E-cigarettes are particularly helpful for those who have not found success in other quit therapies.

- A commonly held public opinion is that vaping could serve as a gateway drug for children. This belief contradicts current evidence found by the 2018 ASH Year 10 Smoking Survey. Through the ASH Survey, it was found that only 0.4% of Year 10 students who have never smoked before now use e-cigarettes daily. Furthermore, students who reported being daily smokers of cigarettes were much more likely to be users of e-cigarettes than those who did not previously smoke in any form. For those students, vaping is much more favourable than exclusively smoking tobacco-containing cigarettes given the health risks.

- Although the proportion of Year 10 students trying e-cigarettes (trying includes students who have tried an e-cigarette only once) has increased since 2014, this has not been accompanied by a comparable increase in daily use. This shows that while the increase in availability of vapes has led to an increase in students trying vaping products, it has not led to an increase in students actually picking up the habit of daily vaping

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