Teens far more likely to vape than parents

4 minute read

And there has been an ‘alarming’ rise in depression and anxiety diagnoses, especially among 15- to 35-year-olds.

Teenagers are way more likely to be vaping than their parents, diabetes is more likely to kill 35–54-year-olds than cancer and depression and anxiety are on the rise – but at least tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption are on the decline.

The latest report for the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey analysed data gathered between 2001 and 2021, tracking over 17000 people in 9000 households.

This year, for the first time, the report included vaping data.

According to the data, tobacco-smokers were almost 20 percentage points more likely to vape than those who didn’t smoke.

“Age is a significant factor in e-cigarette and vaping device usage with individuals between the ages of 15 and 19 predicted to have a 13.8 percentage-point higher probability of using these products than those aged 30 to 39,” said lead author Professor Roger Wilkins.

“This means teenagers are far more likely to vape or use e-cigarettes than their parents or teachers,” he added.

Over 14% of those 15 or older had tried vaping or e-cigarettes.

Overall, men were more likely to use e-cigarettes or vapes than women, by 2.2 percentage points, and NSW residents were the most likely to be users, compared to other states and the ACT.

But the HILDA data confirmed AIHW numbers suggesting that smoking tobacco was on the decline, down 36% in men and 39% in women over the age of 15 over the study period.

Of note, the report found high “fluidity” in smoking rates, meaning that many that quit would take up smoking shortly after.

“Reducing smoking rates is not only about encouraging individuals to quit smoking, but also preventing the uptake or resumption of smoking,” said Professor Wilkins.

But while tobacco use may be slowing, illicit drug use is on the rise.

In 2021, illicit drug use was most prominent in 20–24-year-olds, with almost 30% reporting recreational drug use.

Prescription drug use was also prevalent.

“Results revealed that, in 2021, 29% of women and 26% of men reported using strong painkillers or pain-relievers with opioids in them, while 14% of women and 11% of men used tranquilisers and/or sleeping pills,” said senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne Dr Esperanza Vera-Toscano in the report.

The report also looked at alcohol consumption across the country.

“The decrease in alcohol consumption rates over a span of two decades is relatively modest, with a reduction of approximately six percentage points for both males and females,” said Dr Vera-Toscano.

Regular drinkers, who drink on five or more days of the week, dropped from 19% to 15% in males but stayed relatively consistent in women at around 10%.

But men were twice as likely as women to engage in “risky drinking” by consuming five or more drinks in one sitting.

Tobacco smokers were also more likely to engage in risky and more frequent drinking behaviours, by around 10 percentage points, than non-smokers.

“Individuals residing in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have a higher likelihood of high-volume drinking compared to their counterparts in New South Wales,” added Dr Vera-Toscano.

Beyond substance-use habits, the survey also collected information every four years on serious illness conditions.

Most conditions were more prevalent in older age groups, including arthritis, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

But this was not true for asthma, which was more evenly distributed, and mental health illnesses, which tended to be more prevalent in younger groups.

“In 2021, females aged 15 to 34 had by far the highest proportion—29.3%—diagnosed with depression or anxiety,” said Professor Wilkins.

“In terms of changes between 2009 and 2021, most alarming is the rise in diagnosed depression and anxiety, which increased for males and females in all age groups but was especially pronounced among females aged 15 to 34, among whom it rose from 12.7% to 29.3%,” he said.

There were also rises in type 2 diabetes, asthma and, for men, heart disease and high blood pressure in people over 55 between 2009 and 2021.

But this may be down to better diagnosis, the report posited.

Being chronic diseases, most persisted over the study period.

There were surprising datapoints in some chronic illnesses.

“Interestingly, slight declines in diagnosed arthritis or osteoporosis are evident for both men and women aged 35 and over,” said Professor Wilkins.

“Notably, Type 1 diabetes has no cure, and yet 14.4% of those aged 15 to 34, 24.2% of those aged 35 to 54, and 43.2% of those aged 55 and over who reported having Type 1 diabetes did not report having it four years later,” added Professor Wilkins.

Persistence was highest among the older age groups.

Type 1 diabetes had the highest mortality rate of all the conditions in 35-to-53-year-olds.

Over a four-year period the mortality rate of type 1 diabetes was 11% and in heart disease was 8.8% in 35 to 54-years-olds, surpassing cancer in this age group which was 7.4%

However in the over-55s, cancer mortality rose to 18.1%, with type 1 diabetes staying relatively steady at 12.9%, type 2 catching up on 11.1% and heart disease overtaking both at almost 16%.

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