Vaping by young adults – good news for public health

Posted on May 31, 2024 By Colin

ALARMIST MEDIA REPORTS raise concerns about the high vaping rate in young adults. However, it is highly likely that vaping is significantly reducing deadly smoking rates in this age group and may be beneficial overall to public health.

The latest fearmongering report today from the Australian Institute of Family Studies is typical of the flawed messaging and is also published here in The Australian.

How many young adults vape?

In Australia, one in five (21%) 18-24-year-olds "currently" vape (ie vape once or more in the last 12 months). (NDSHS 2023) However, most vaping by young adults is infrequent and short-term, as the following graph shows.

Most vape only once or twice or have vaped in the past and quit. One in twelve (8.5%) vape daily. One in eight (12.7%) vape occasionally (once or more in the last 12 months).

Vaping is reducing smoking

It is highly likely that vaping is diverting young adults away from taking up smoking and is helping young adult smokers to quit

Data from the 2023 National Drug Strategy Household Survey show that the decline in smoking in the 18-24-year-old age group is faster than in any other adult age group.

Even if a small number of young adults are diverted from smoking there is likely to be a substantial public health benefit as smoking kills 2 in 3 long-term users.

This finding in Australia is consistent with international research. Many studies have confirmed that young adults have the highest vaping rate and the most rapid declines in smoking of all age groups. This has been demonstrated in populations in the US (Floxon; Sanford) and the UK. (APS; Tattan-Birch) This rapid decline in smoking became apparent only since vapes became more widely available.

The harm from young adult vaping

Even for daily vapers, the risks from vaping are low, especially for short-term use. The majority of those who try vaping do so temporarily, often only once or twice. These patterns of vaping carry no or minimal risk.

Smokers who quit before 35 years of age recover fully and have a normal life expectancy. (Jha 2014) It is highly likely that vaping for two or three decades will cause little harm as vaping carries only a small fraction of the risk of smoking. (OHID 2022)

Furthermore, smokers who have switched to vaping are likely to have substantial health benefits.

Importantly, there is no good evidence that vaping is a gateway to smoking, as claimed by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. (more about the gateway here)

An adult choice

Remember we are talking about adults who are entitled to make their own informed choices. Nanny state activists and governments have no right to interfere with these choices as long as they are harming no-one else.

Australia’s paternalistic approach to vaping nicotine is in conflict with the Harm Principle, developed by the highly respected English philosopher John Stuart Mill in 1859.

Mill states that in a liberal democracy, adults of sound mind should have the freedom and autonomy to make their own lifestyle choices as they know best what is right for themselves whereas  governments are often wrong

Vaping opponents apply a double standard to vaping and try to restrict it. However, young adults are legally able to smoke, drink, drive cars, bungee jump and parachute, all of which are far more harmful.

Older smokers are missing out

It is of great concern that vaping by older smokers is rare as smoking rates in this group are not declining. Older smokers are at immediate risk of death and illness from smoking and quit rates are low. Public health authorities should be promoting vaping as an alternative quitting aid in this group.

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