Australian teenagers urge government to help them break vaping addiction | Health

Teenagers have urged the Australian government to help them break their nicotine addiction, submissions to a major consultation on vaping reforms reveal.

A submission to drug regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration from South Australia’s commissioner for children and young people, Helen Connolly, included comments from some of the 950 teenagers aged 13-to-19 surveyed by her office about vaping.

A 16-year-old girl described how: “All we have to do is go to a cheap servo … and there we can buy a vape without being asked for identification of age”.

“There really needs to be restrictions put in place to make them not so easy to access and then the addiction would be forced to stop,” the teenager wrote.

“I know many people, me included, would be extremely angry at first when there [sic] in the first few days without nicotine but if adults want children to stop, I truly believe it’s the only way.”

A 15-year-old girl wrote: “Stop treating kids with vaping addiction like they’re awful people because you would help an adult with one but not a child.”

A 17-year-old girl wrote: “Some of us aren’t doing it to look cool, some of us are genuinely struggling with addictions or are using them as coping mechanisms like a stress reliever.”

Connolly wrote that, based on the voices of the young people surveyed, nicotine and non-nicotine vaping products should be banned from importation unless bound for pharmacies. She also wrote they should be tested, labelled properly and certified; come in plain packaging; and that all flavours – except tobacco and colouring agents – should be prohibited.

“Such a response must avoid punishing children and young people, while ensuring there is information and support available for all children, with particular support for those who may be dependent or addicted to nicotine vapes and may struggle with withdrawals.”

The almost 4,000 submissions to the vaping reform inquiry were published by the TGA on Thursday. A submission from the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia said: “The direct comments from students read as a cri-de-coeur.”

A 17-year-old student quoted in the submission said: “I’ve tried to quit and I couldn’t think straight. I had the worst ever headaches of my life and I found it to be much too difficult to quit.”

The health minister, Mark Butler, told Guardian Australia that “the status quo on vaping is completely unacceptable”.

While he did not respond to questions about when the TGA’s full report of recommendations to the government would be made public and when any reforms would be implemented, he did say that, “We know this problem has exploded over the last several years and we know the urgency to act is this year.”

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In April, Butler will hold his second tobacco control round table. Guardian Australia understands the TGA recommendations will be discussed then.

“Health ministers are determined to take strong action about the explosion of illegal vaping in Australia and stamp out this menace,” Butler said.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president, Dr Nicole Higgins, said because young people’s brains are still developing, she is concerned it will be even harder for them to quit nicotine than adult users.

“When the vapes we’ve seen have cartoon characters and the same tropes as children’s cereal on the packaging, these companies are either targeting children or not taking care to keep children safe,” Higgins said.

“This has to stop. Vapes must be sold in plain, unappealing packaging, the contents must match the label and strong import controls must be put in place and enforced.”

The chair of the Cancer Council Australia’s Tobacco Issues Committee, Alecia Brooks, said the only way for the federal government to stop the vaping public health crisis from escalating is to strengthen border controls on imports of all vaping products and restrict the supply of e-cigarettes outside the legal prescription pathway.

“Priority one is for Australian Border Force to seize illegal e-cigarettes destined for sale anywhere other than a pharmacy, prioritising shipments headed for retailers or wholesalers,” she said.

All state and territory governments supported tighter border controls in their submissions to the TGA consultation.