TikTok vaping challenge prompts warning from health experts

Health experts are concerned about vaping products targeting teenagers on social media, worried that it will lead to a spike in usage.

Vaping challenges are trending on TikTok, encouraging young people to make shapes like “ghosts”, and rings with the smoke from the device, with many saying the "trick" is to breathe in more vapour.

Although vaping has often been seen as the 'healthier' alternative to smoking in the past, medical experts are warning it's far from it.

Vapours can contain cancer-causing agents, toxins, heavy metals, and very fine particles that can cause adverse health effects, leading health professionals to worry that current trends could have devastating long-lasting effects on young people and eventually lead to nicotine addiction.

Screenshots of three videos from TikTok of people forming shapes using the vapour from a vape.
Experts are concerned the rise of how-to vaping TiKToks could lead to more teens taking up the habit. Source: TikTok

Experts warn of long-term consequences of vaping

"Adolescence is a critical period for brain development and exposure to nicotine can have long-term health consequences, impacting memory, attention and learning." NSW Health spokesperson Mark Douglass said in a statement to Yahoo News Australia.

The 2020 NSW Population Health Survey found that two percent of NSW adults over 16 years used e-cigarettes. The survey found that in 2019-2020, the highest users of e-cigarettes was young people aged between 16 to 24.

"People who use e-cigarettes are around three times as likely as those who haven't used them to go on to smoke conventional cigarettes," President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr Omar Khorshid says.

"E-cigarette use also exposes young people to particulate matter, which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and have been linked to lung injuries and mouth and throat irritation."

A close-up photo of e-cigarettes for  sale in a store in New York
It's illegal in NSW to sell e-cigarettes and e-cigarette accessories to minors under the age of 18. Source: Getty Images

What is a vape?

A vape or an E-cigarette is a battery-operated device that simulates smoking a cigarette.

The device heats a liquid solution, usually containing nicotine — turning it into a vapour. Users inhale the vapour rather than the tobacco smoke they usually would in a cigarette, leading people to believe that ‘vaping’ is healthier alternative to smoking.

However, international research indicates young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to go on to use regular tobacco cigarettes.

Children are being targeted with the marketing of vapes

According to Dr Khorshid, the packaging of e-cigarette is targeting children and young people.

"Fruity and dessert-based flavours have been shown to make these products more attractive to young people," Dr Khorshid says.

"The NSW Government is committed to reducing the prevalence of smoking, including the use of e-cigarettes," NSW Health said. "In 2021-22, the NSW Ministry of Health and Cancer Institute NSW will invest $16.9 million on tobacco and e-cigarette control."

This includes public awareness and education campaigns, quit smoking support, compliance and enforcement of strong smoke-free and retailing laws, and targeted programs for vulnerable groups with high smoking rates.

Selling e-liquids containing nicotine to a minor can result in big fines

In Australia, it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes, e-cigarette accessories, and tobacco products to anyone under 18 years old. It's also illegal to sell e-cigarettes or e-liquids that contain nicotine unless you have a prescription from a registered Australian medical practitioner.

E-cigarettes or vapes that do not contain nicotine are legal in NSW. Adults can buy and use e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine.

If an individual is caught selling these products, you could be fined up to $11,000 for a first offence and up to $55,000 for a second offence if caught.

For a corporation, up to $55,000 for a first offence, and up to $110,000 for a second or subsequent offence.

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