Young people addicted to vapes who have never smoked face harsh quitting reality
Sabrina had never touched a cigarette but started vaping when she finished high school.
The 21-year-old Sydneysider then started university a couple of years ago, just as e-cigarettes had started to take hold among young people.
That's when the little highlighter-looking device became an addiction.
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"You develop a dependency because you're stressed about an assignment or life and think this makes me feel better," she told 9news.com.au.
She said she vapes a couple of times a day and the fact the smoke from vapes doesn't produce a smell means it is more common for her to smoke at home or at friend's houses.
Sabrina said she's wanted to stop but keeps coming back when she's stressed.
Now with the government crackdown on vapes, she's thinking about how she'll quit.
"I don't think it's going to be easy but it's something you will have to come to terms with," she said.
Earlier this month, Health Minister Mark Butler announced a $234 million package to phase out recreational vaping over fears the devices are creating a "new generation of nicotine addicts".
Under the plan, single-use disposable vapes will be banned, the volume and concentration of nicotine will be restricted, and both flavours and packaging will be required to be plain, the latter with warning labels.
Vapes will only be available in pharmacies with a prescription.
"They will have to be imported for sale only in pharmacies. The import of vapes for sale in retail settings will end," Butler said in unveiling the world-first plan.
"These are supposed to be pharmaceutical products so they will have to present that way, no more bubblegum flavours, pink unicorns or vapes disguised as highlighter pens for kids to hide in their pencil cases."
Another concern from the government is the possibility of a transition of vapers to smoking cigarettes.
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For Sabrina, the crackdown means giving up her vice.
She doesn't believe taking up smoking will be her next move and hopes to cut out her nicotine usage altogether.
"It's definitely opened my eyes and made me think that I should stop," she said.
"I've wanted to stop but once you've developed a habit, it's hard to stop cold turkey."
In preparation for the crackdown, she's trying to reduce how often she vapes so that when the laws do begin, it's not a "shock" to her system.
One expert isn't concerned about the nicotine addiction of non-smoking vapers, like Sabrina, when the laws begin.
Dr Colin Mendelsohn told 9news.com.au those who likely only use the devices occasionally will be able to drop the vice when the crackdown comes into effect.
He added e-cigarettes aren't likely to contribute to non-smoker vapers taking up smoking.
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He says the government's claims that vapers are three times more likely to take up smoking isn't a causal link.
"You can't prove the vaping caused the smoking. It's not scientifically valid," he said.
He said among young people vaping is just another risk-taking factor like binge drinking, unprotected sex and drugs.
"It's just kids who are more likely to take risks," he said.
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But Mendelsohn is sceptical that the crackdown will even work.
"From past experience banning illicit drugs, enforcement and policing has no impact," he said.
"The black market will just step up. It is innovative."
She said during the last crackdown in October 2021, when the government made e-cigarettes containing nicotine a prescription-only medicine, disposable vapes were still as available as ever.
"I don't have full faith because these small businesses and convenience stores rely on the revenue from vapes and nicotine products," she said.
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Mendelsohn said the government should instead be introducing age restrictions to sellers where there are severe penalties and loss of licences if they breach the minimum age of sale.
"They need to restrict access to young people but give adults who need it a chance," he said.
He added e-cigarettes should be more accessible for adult smokers as a method to quit, which the government is planning to do by making prescriptions more accessible at GP clinics around the country.
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