A ban on recreational vaping in Australia is on its way, and with the number of people addicted to nicotine increasing, it is hoped that many will embark on the journey to quitting.
Imagine this. You’ve started hanging around with people who vape, and they offer you a puff. It’s colourful, flavoured, and doesn’t seem like such a big deal. So the next time you are heading out with your friends, you pick up a vape of your own. A little party treat, no biggie.
Until reaching for your e-cigarette is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night. It’s all you think about when you don’t have it on you. Suddenly, you’re addicted.
This was the case for Sahara Boniface, 22, who began vaping three years ago and is on a journey to quit the habit.
“I was embarrassed at how much I needed it,” Sahara says.
“I would be hanging out with my friends; we’d be doing something like going to see a movie, that’s only two hours and I’d be itching for my vape.
“I was like, ‘this is getting to a point where I have to admit I’m addicted and that’s embarrassing’.”
Sahara is not alone.
Vaping is especially popular with young people
In 2022, 7.8 per cent of South Australians aged 15 to 29 were using vapes or e-cigarettes, according to the SA Health & Medical Research Institute. This was up from only 1.1 per cent in 2017.
Nationally, a study on e-cigarette trends in Australia found people aged 18 to 44 were twice as likely to vape compared to people aged 45 and over.
In recent years, vapes have become a trendy cigarette. They don’t smell gross, come in different flavours and are more discreet than a cigarette.
E-cigarettes are new to the market compared to cigarettes, which first began to grow in popularity in the 19th century, and so the information around their effects and what’s in them are relatively unknown. For people like Sahara, there is little knowledge and understanding of what ingredients are held in the liquids they’re inhaling.
“The only one I could probably name from it is nicotine,” Sahara says.
In May 2023, the South Australian Government launched an education campaign to address this knowledge gap and warn students and parents about the dangers of e-cigarettes.
Posters highlighting the harmful substances found in vapes, including nail polish, weed killer and bug spray will be given to all government high schools to display at their campuses.
The schools have also received copies of fact sheets for students and families,
new curriculum planning resources, and funded vaping education programs. The materials are also available to Catholic and independent schools in SA.
Also in May, the Federal Government announced it will outlaw recreational vaping, meaning people will only be able to purchase vapes through pharmacies with a script.
Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier says the nicotine in one vape can be equal to 50 cigarettes or more.
OG vaping and the rise of disposables
Samuel Haller, 38, began vaping seven years ago.
“At the time it felt like a better alternative to smoking,” Samuel says.
“It was too new to be on the government’s radar properly. It was more about gimmick-fun, dare I say it.”
For Samuel, once vapes became more accessible with retail outlets selling disposable devices, he knew it was time to quit.
“Previously you had to understand basics about vaporising devices, maintenance and refilling. Enter cheap disposables and all that disappears,” he says.
“Now you just need to know which convenience store or service station is selling them and you need to rock up, you don’t need to know anything further.
“I’m doing mechanical engineering at uni, so I have an understanding of batteries, manufacturing processes, materials, and I was looking at these and thinking ‘what an incredible amount of waste,’ I can’t believe it.”
Even though he had been a cigarette smoker previously, Samuel’s nicotine dependence increased dramatically when he was vaping due to its convenience.
“It’s not particularly odorous, the smell doesn’t linger, it’s compact, you can sit at your desk and puff away, you can lie in bed and puff away,” he says.
“There had been a couple periods where I thought, ‘this sucks’.
“I’d try and go back to cigarettes for a while, just to ease up on the nicotine intake but cigarettes smell [bad]. I’d have a crack at quitting and then go back.”
Sahara started her quitting journey small, trying to fight her withdrawal symptoms by undoing the habit of having a vape in her hand and bringing it up to her mouth.
“I felt so tired all the time, absolutely no energy and I was really snappy with everyone, really irritable,” she says.
“I was carrying a water bottle around with me and whenever I wanted to vape, I would have a sip of water.
“I’m not sure how effective that was or how much of it was willpower.”
Removing yourself from tempting environments
Both Sahara and Samuel found making social changes helped reduce the temptation to vape, but they agree it’s not an easy change.
“A big trigger for me to want nicotine was when I was drinking, so that was another thing I tried to cut down on for a little bit,” Sahara says.
“I had to stop putting myself in those social situations where I would be vaping all the time.”
Getting help to quit
After thinking about the amount of waste vaping was generating, Samuel called a quit smoking service provider.
They helped him access Varenicline, a prescription medicine that reduces nicotine cravings.
“I still get the cravings and I reckon I will for the rest of my life,” Samuel says.
“At the end of the day, I was sick of it all and being dependent on nicotine which was taking so much and giving nothing back.”
For support to quit cigarettes or vaping, you can visit besmokefree or call Quitline on 13 78 48.
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