Tobacco tax linked to higher levels of teenage vaping

Globally, most adolescents who experiment with vaping don’t develop an addiction, but the way tobacco products were taxed may be linked with higher e-cigarette use among young people, according to new University of Queensland research.

Lead author Dr Gary Chan from UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research said the UQ study analysed data from nearly 152,000 teens in 47 countries who participated in a World Health Organization (WHO) Tobacco Survey between 2015 and 2018.

“Our study found the prevalence of vaping in low-and middle-income countries was low,” Dr Chan said.

“One in 12 adolescents reported vaping over a 30-day period, but only one in 60 vaped more than 10 days over the 30-day period.”

Dr Chan said there are two likely reasons why there are low levels of frequent vaping among young people. 

“E-cigarettes are often sold in colourful packages with highly palatable flavours that appeal to adolescents, and this could lead to experimentation but not continued use.

“While some e-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine, adolescents can also vape non-nicotine or low nicotine e-cigarettes which are less addictive.”

E-cigarettes heat flavourings, chemicals, and nicotine (extracted from tobacco), to create an aerosol that is inhaled.

In Australia, it is illegal to use, sell or buy nicotine for use in e-cigarettes without a prescription.

The study examined if there was a link between the number of adolescents using e-cigarettes and WHO’s tobacco use monitoring and prevention policies (monitoring, smoke-free policies, cessation programs, warning about the dangers of tobacco, advertising bans and taxation).

“We found that higher tobacco taxes were associated with higher levels of youth vaping,” Dr Chan said.

“This could suggest that young people in countries with a higher tobacco tax might be substituting traditional cigarettes with e-cigarettes.

“We hope the results will be used to develop and implement comprehensive global strategies and policies to limit the increase of e-cigarette use in low and middle-income countries.”

A previous study co-led by UQ’s Dr Chan found TikTok exposes young people to videos that could reinforce a positive attitude towards vaping and e-cigarette usage, with little reference to health consequences.

“Considering how accessible these videos are to young people, and previous studies associating exposure to vaping-related content with increased e-cigarette use, age restrictions on social media platforms are recommended,” Dr Chan said.

This study was published today in the journal Addiction (DOI/10.1111).

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