New insights on teen vaping behaviour in Australia

A new study tracking Australian teenager beliefs and behaviours using vapes (e-cigarettes) has found many are readily accessing and using illegal vaping products, writes A/Prof Becky Freeman, Dr Christina Watts and Sam Egger.

Teen vaping has been in the news, with reports of  rapidly increasing use  and  illegal sales  of e-cigarettes.

As a Four Corners  documentary  on ABC TV earlier this year showed, parents and schools are struggling to manage this swift rise in vaping, with fears children are addicted and harming their health.

In contrast, very limited research about Australian teen vaping has been published, until today.

We have  published  in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health the first results from the  Generation Vape  study. The study aims to track teenagers’ knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours about using vapes (e-cigarettes).

Here’s what we found about where teenagers were accessing vapes and what types of products they use.

Vaping common, especially in non-smokers



We surveyed more than 700 teenagers 14-17 years old from New South Wales. The sample was closely representative of the population, with key characteristics such as age, gender, location and education monitored throughout data collection.

We found teenagers are readily accessing and using illegal, flavoured, disposable vaping products that contain nicotine.

Among the teens surveyed, 32% had ever vaped, at least a few puffs. Of these, more than half (54%) had never previously smoked.

Where are teens getting vapes from?



We found most teens (70%) didn’t directly buy the last vape they used. The vast majority (80%) of these got it from their friends.

However, for the 30% who did buy their own vape, close to half (49%) bought it from a friend or another individual, and 31% bought it from a retailer such as a petrol station, tobacconist or convenience store.

Teens also said they bought vapes through social media, at vape stores and via websites.

What products are teens using, and why?



Of the teens who had ever vaped and reported the type of device they used, 86% had used a disposable vape. This confirms anecdotal reports.

These devices appeal to young people and are easy to use. They do not require refilling (unlike tank-style vaping products) and are activated by inhaling on the mouthpiece.

Disposable vapes can contain hundreds, or even thousands of puffs, and are inexpensive, with illicit vapes from retail stores costing between  $20-$30, or as little as $5 online.

There is an enormous range of vape flavours likely to appeal to children - from chewing gum to fruit and soft drink, even desserts. So it is unsurprising teens rated "flavourings and taste" as the most important characteristic of vapes they used.

Disposable vapes often contain very  high concentrations of nicotine , even those claiming to be nicotine-free. The way these products  are made  (using nicotine salts rather than the free-base nicotine you’d find in cigarettes) allows manufacturers to increase the nicotine concentration without causing throat irritation.

In our study, over half (53%) of the teens who had ever vaped said they had used a vape containing nicotine. Many, however, were unsure whether they had used a vape containing nicotine (27%).

All vaping products, irrespective of nicotine content,  are illegal  to sell to under 18s in Australia.

Today, disposable vapes containing nicotine can only be legally sold in Australia by pharmacies to adult users with a valid prescription.


This site uses cookies and analysis tools to improve the usability of the site. More information. |