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Teens dumping nicotine for cannabis in troubling new vaping trend

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Queensland parents and schools already struggling to combat the rising epidemic of vaping among students are facing a new challenge, with new surveys show a growing trend in cannabis vaping.

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The growing use of e-cigarettes or ‘vaping’ among teenagers has schools across the state adopting measures to deal with the issue from locking bathrooms during class time to parent information nights and anti-vaping committees.

But new research from the University of Queensland of shows the scourge of cannabis vaping is quickly catching the nicotine vaping trend among teens.

A review of 17 studies that surveyed nearly 200,000 teens in the US and Canada found more than twice as many North American high schoolers had tried a cannabis vape in 2020 than in 2013.

It found the number of students who had used a weed vape in the past month increased seven-fold over the same timeframe.

UQ researcher Carmen Lim said cannabis vaping was “the new thing” that was also set to impact Australia.

“While the cannabis market in the US is unregulated, it is different to here. But unfortunately, you can get hold of these products here as well,” Lim said.

“We are not totally immune. What is happening in the US will also possibly happen in Australia.

“This is a trend, so parents really do need to keep an eye on students.”

With brightly coloured packaging and sweet-tasting flavours, e-cigarettes have permeated teen culture.

Able to provide the same rush as a cigarette, vaping has found its way into schools and is a trend popularised on social media sites.

The e-cigarettes retail for between $90 and $150 online and look like a standard Ventolin inhaler or innocent school stationery such as USB sticks, highlighters, pens or phone cases.

Lim said the devices were very discreet so were difficult to spot.

“You can hide it in between your textbooks. You can use it behind a teacher. It is very easy to get hold of these devices and is very concerning,” she said.

According to the 2020 Queensland Chief Health Officer’s report, 16 per cent of Queensland secondary school students aged 12 to 17 had used e-cigarettes in 2017 — compared with 14 per cent nationally.

Of those, about one in three had done so in the previous month, with male students twice as likely as female students to have tried them.

Lim said many e-cigarettes were refillable, which meant the liquid could be switched out to contain products such as cannabis e-liquids.

She said the impact of the findings meant that there was rising concern that nicotine vaping could be a gateway for cannabis vaping, and that teens may think it was a healthier option to smoking cannabis.

“A longitudinal study found adolescent nicotine e-cigarette use was associated with an increased risk of vaping cannabis,” the team of researchers wrote in the study.

“Adolescents are also more susceptible to the initiation of cannabis vaping if they have peers who vape cannabis.

“Like nicotine vaping, cannabis vaping is perceived as the healthier alternative to smoking cannabis because of the lower exposure to toxic combustion products.

“The flavour profile and the discreetness of new-generation vaping products, coupled with the ability to customise devices for use with other non-nicotine substances, could increase the appeal of cannabis vaping.”

 

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