E-cigarette use by smokers in New South Wales is highest among young people, a new Cancer Institute NSW study shows.
16 per cent of young smokers in the state aged between 18 and 29 are using e-cigarettes, a higher proportion than any other age group.
The findings come from the report ‘How are tobacco smokers using e-cigarettes? Patterns of use, reasons for use and places of purchase in New South Wales’, published on 16 May in the Medical Journal of Australia.
It found that of these young people, 25 per cent say they are using e-cigarettes because they believe they are not as bad for you as cigarettes.
Anita Dessaix, Manager of Cancer Prevention at the Cancer Institute NSW, says it is important that people are aware of the risks and possible dangers associated with e-cigarette use.
“The assumption that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to tobacco smoking with little or no negative health consequences is a concern,” she says.
“People need to be aware that the e-cigarette industry is currently unregulated and we don’t in fact know what risks they pose.
“Further research is needed into the full effects of e-cigarettes.”
Public health professionals report particular concern in the marketing of e-cigarettes to young people, including the promotion of fruit and candy flavoured cartridges.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices producing a vapour which the user inhales, simulating the act of cigarette smoking.
Fears e-cigarettes could normalise smoking
Anita Dessaix says there is no conclusive evidence that e-cigarettes work as a quit smoking aid.
“In fact, there are fears that they could again normalise smoking behaviour, which could lead to young users moving on to smoking tobacco,” she says.
“What we don’t want to see is a reversal of the progress that has been made in tobacco control in Australia."
E-cigarettes are currently unregulated as aids to help people stop smoking.
The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommends authorities should act to minimise harm until evidence of safety, quality and efficacy can be produced.
Online purchasing at high rates
The study shows almost a third of e-cigarette users are buying the product online and largely unrestricted – more than any other method of purchase.
29 per cent of e-cigarette smokers buy the device over the internet where there are no restrictions around whether dangerous substances such as nicotine are included.
Nicotine e-cigarettes are banned in Australia.
Supporting data from the International Tobacco Control Project shows that one in five Australian e-cigarette smokers doesn’t know whether their brand contains nicotine or not.
Dessaix says that this frightening statistic provides further evidence for the need to continue to research and regulate the e-cigarette industry.