Australian vaping policy neglects deadly harms to adults

Posted on January 9, 2024 By Colin

ONLY 8% OF AUSTRALIA’S VAPERS are under-18 and are at relatively minor risk of harm from vaping. However, Australia’s harsh restrictions on vaping focus on protecting youth instead of enabling the substantial benefits of vaping to the much larger number of adult smokers and vapers.

Relatively few underage vapers

The 2023 survey for the Department of Health and Aged Care found that only 8% of Australian vapers are under 18 years of age. However, government policy is disproportionately focussed on the small harms of vaping to this small minority

In doing so, policy neglects the needs of the remaining 92% of vapers who are adults aged 18 or over. It also overlooks the needs of 2.5 million adult smokers.

Harms to youth are relatively minor

Our recent Evidence Review concluded that “youth vaping carries relatively minor health risk”. This is because most young non-smokers who vape do so infrequently and transiently. Only frequent vaping over the longer-term has the potential to cause harm, and serious harmful effects to date are very rare.

Furthermore, rather than being a gateway to smoking, vaping is diverting young people who would have otherwise smoked away from smoking overall. As well, any harm from vaping is likely to be distant, after many years of sustained use.

Huge benefits for adults

On the other hand, the vast majority of adults vape to quit smoking or to prevent relapse to smoking. In young adult populations (18-34y), vaping is diverting users from taking up smoking and has accelerated the decline in smoking rates eg here and here. The health benefits of switching from smoking to vaping are substantial, immediate and lifesaving.

Policies that restrict adult access to vaping are likely to perpetuate smoking and have serious adverse public health consequences

Do the maths

The mathematics is simple. Youth vaping is a low-risk activity by <10% of Australia’s vaping population. On the other hand, over 90% of vapers are adults, most of whom would otherwise smoke, and are likely to have substantial health benefits from vaping.

Numerous modelling studies (eg here, here and here) have confirmed that the overall public health impact of vaping is positive after calculating the harms and benefits of vaping for both youth and adults.

According to the UK Royal College of Physicians, optimal public health policy should make vaping more appealing, accessible and affordable for adult smokers, while restricting access by youth. This is the opposite outcome from Australia’s regulations.

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