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The growth in youth vaping will mean an increase in nicotine addiction among young people, and the accompanying negative impacts on their wellbeing, warn public health and addiction experts.

In the latest Briefing from the Public Health Communication Centre, University of Otago ASPIRE Network researchers and a psychiatrist specialising in youth addiction outline how addiction develops and the problems it creates for young people who vape, including anxiety and mood disorders.

The number of young people vaping is higher in New Zealand than in comparable countries and according to Dr Jude Ball from ASPIRE, advances in vaping technology mean the vapes are delivering high doses of nicotine very rapidly leading to a higher likelihood of addiction.

“Nicotine is highly addictive because of the way it works on brain receptors. There’s evidence that developing adolescent brainsmay be more susceptible to addiction than adult brains. So, the risk of addiction for young people is higher,” says Dr Ball.

Dr Ball and co-authors argue that the effects of addiction are significant including financial, social and psychological impacts. “Young people who become addicted to vaping may also see an impact on their learning as the withdrawal kicks in since loss of concentration is a key symptom. There is also evidence of long-term effects of nicotine use on adolescents’ cognition and memory. Many will suffer a loss of physical fitness and may stop taking part in sports. They face the risk of getting caught vaping, facing possible consequences such as school suspension. Addiction can impact relationships with parents, cause sleep disruption and increase anxiety and mood disorders.”

The debate around vaping has generally focused on harm to health but nicotine addiction has wider implications for young people which should be taken into account when policy options are being looked at according to Dr Ball.

“Addiction in children and adolescents is a health issue and schools need support to provide a health-based approach to vaping, rather than a punitive approach that causes further harm.”

The Briefing is calling for stronger protections for young people to reduce the availability, appeal and attractiveness of vaping and smoking. The authors say there’s an urgent need for quit vaping services tailored to young people.


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