WA researchers look at how state laws can be used to stop influencers promoting vaping on social media

West Australian researchers are hoping laws can be put in place to “shield” teenagers from social media influencers who promote vaping on their platforms, amid growing fears about young people taking up e-cigarettes.

On social media platforms, some influencers and advertisements are showing vaping as “cool” and “stylish” – in much the same way cigarette companies marketed their products 50 years ago.

Despite laws banning the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes in Australia, they’re becoming increasingly common among young people and it has health experts worried.

University of WA’s Marilyn Bromberg is among a team of researchers who will look at ways state laws can be changed to stop people seeing vape ads, videos and images on social media.

“There are studies that have shown this connection between seeing this advertisement on social media and young people using e-cigarettes,” she said.

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Vaping tricks go wild on social media, amassing thousands of likes and shares

She said while there were laws in place to control marketing of e-cigarettes in Australia, much of the damaging content was coming from overseas.

“Social media being international and ubiquitous is unique and we will really need to look at that quite rigorously.” 

“There are all these advertisements on social media and [we are] trying to protect our young people from the negative health repercussions that can result from when they vape.”

Fears for next generation’s health

With e-cigarette use common among young people, WA Cancer Council Prevention and Research Director Melissa Ledger said she was concerned for the health of the next generation.

“E-cigarettes are harmful, the evidence has become much clearer in the last few months,” she said. 

“We know that nicotine is highly, highly addictive and there’s certainly evidence of young people becoming nicotine dependent.

“[E-cigarettes] can also lead to nicotine poisoning, they can lead to acute lung disease and the long-term effects at this point in time are not known.

“We just don’t want another generation to end up not being the healthiest that they can be.”

Young people likely to imitate online behaviour

Digital wellbeing researcher Kristy Goodwin welcomed the steps to rein in the unhealthy habits people were seeing online and said young people were easily influenced by social media content, especially if shared by their peers.

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Digital wellbeing researcher Kristy Goodwin says young people are likely to imitate behaviour they see online to try to fit in.(Supplied: Kristy Goodwin)

“If their peers are consuming and sharing content on social media that is promoting, you know, vaping and other unhealthy practices it means that they are very vulnerable to imitate and copy those sorts of behaviours in an attempt to seek that social validation and social acceptance that they so desperately crave at that age,” she said.

“I think we need to do everything we can do within our locus of control to shield young people from some of the unsavoury and inappropriate content that they’re consuming online.”

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