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Australia is a global success story when it comes to reducing rates of smoking – in 1998 nearly 30 per cent of people smoked, while three decades later that figure has been cut to 13 per cent. But in just the past decade, the number of people trying out or using e-cigarettes has continued to grow. Proponents argued that these were people using the vape to quit smoking, but new Australian figures suggest that may not be the case.

In a study, people were interviewed about their health behaviours and lifestyle during phone surveys conducted over a five year period, from 2016 to 2020. Among the questions asked were how often someone used e-cigarettes as well as their main motivation. About 60 per cent of those surveyed were men, and participants were from a wide spread of ages (though the bulk of participants were aged 25-39).

The researchers found e-cigarette use doubled between 2016 and 2020, jumping from 6.6 per cent of respondents to 13 per cent. Younger people were much more likely to vape – one in five people in the 18-24 group reported using an e-cigarette while among those 65 or older it was 5.2 per cent. The main overall increase in e-cigarette use was also largely put down to more widespread use among young people. The main reason people reported using e-cigarettes was to help them quit smoking.

The paper’s authors say this growth in use, especially among young people, points to the failure of e-cigarettes as a device to help smokers quit and suggest that stronger measures are needed to curb excessive use. They say that while e-cigarettes containing nicotine are illegal in Australia, they continue to be generally accessible.

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