Fight vaping in the classrooms

3 minute read

The recent crackdown on e-cigs is welcomed, but we could be doing more.

As a happily reformed smoker, your Back Page correspondent has watched in horror as the tobacco industry has pivoted its strategy to the promotion of vaping as a “safer” alternative to regular cigarettes.

Particularly pernicious has been the cynical marketing of vape products to children and teens, and recent moves by the federal government to rein in this odious industry are to be applauded.    

But could we be doing more to counteract the insidious influence of these drug dealers and discourage our young folks from the seductive charms of the vaper trails?

Of course we could, say Australian researchers publishing in this month’s edition of the Drug and Alcohol Review, and the best place to start is in the classroom.

Schools, they write, are the ideal environment for delivering an anti-vaping agenda because those messages can be “delivered en masse, aligned with school curricula, and integrated into existing school-based anti-alcohol and drugs programs”.

They argue that while the increased restrictions on vaping products are welcomed, e-cigarettes and vaping fluids in one form or another are likely to remain widely available, desirable and “purposefully marketed towards young people”.

As in, it is important to acknowledge that by making something harder to get you can conversely increase its attractiveness to many young people, and that even if you tighten up access and marketing, there’s always going to be bad actors out there happy to flout the rules in order to make a quick buck.

And since we are not going to bite the bullet and simply ban these products altogether, we need to get proactive on other fronts.

Our researchers say that “skills-based school prevention programs have demonstrated significant and sustained reductions in drug-related harms up to seven years post-intervention”.

We are going to take their word for that because we can’t help remembering that during your correspondent’s own secondary years, the high school’s anti-smoking messages were somewhat undermined by trips to the teachers’ staff room which were like walking into a tobacco plantation that had been set ablaze. It has to be said the old “do as I say, not as I do” approach was a particularly ineffective deterrent.

Our scientists, on the other hand, are currently undertaking a cluster of RCTs under the guise of the OurFutures Vaping Program, which will use a “harm minimisation and social influence approach” to the issue. This will include providing “evidence-based information about e-cigarettes and tobacco smoking, normative education to correct misperceptions of use and resistance skills training”, with the initial findings expected by mid-next year.

Which just goes to show that things have improved somewhat since the 1970s, and we can hold a reasonable expectation that anti-vaping messaging delivered in schools will have a net-positive impact on existing teen vapers and those who might otherwise be tempted to dabble.

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