Urgent need for action as vaping spreads through social media

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A University of Queensland research project will investigate the online influences behind young people taking up vaping, and develop social media content to support them in quitting the habit.

Dr Carmen Lim from UQ's National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research will lead the five-year project that will analyze pro-vaping social media content to understand young people's attitudes towards vaping.

This is the first step in an ambitious long-term plan to support young people to quit vaping and to make social media safer.

Our research will investigate how often young people are exposed to pro-vaping content online and if it influences their attitude to it, as well as whether social media platforms target vulnerable populations.

We will also conduct focus groups and behavioural experiments to explore young people's engagement with pro-vaping content and identify interventions that could discourage them from vaping."

Dr Carmen Lim from UQ's National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research

Dr Lim said while Australia had implemented strict measures to control access to nicotine vaping products, there is still a lack of effective interventions designed to stop youth vaping.

"That is why this research is important," Dr Lim said.

"A rise in young people vaping in Australia has been accompanied by high volumes of pro-vaping content on social media, most of which is not age restricted."

A 2022 survey of 4445 people aged 14-17 from Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia found more than 20 per cent had vaped in the past 12 months, with 5.7 per cent saying they vape regularly.

Dr Lim said interventions were urgently needed to reverse the trend.

"A US based study found vaping could place a $15.1 billion burden on annual health care expenditure, which will only increase further if teens continue the habit into adulthood," she said.

"Emerging research from the National Academies of Sciences in Public Health suggests vaping potentially has detrimental effects on brain, lung and heart development.

"Many e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, along with other toxic chemicals that can harm brain development and increase the risk of mental health problems in adolescents.

"There needs to be more regulation of pro-vaping messaging on social media platforms to reduce exposure and measures to ensure young people are aware of the risks."

The research has received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council Investigator Grant Scheme.

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