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What young people told us about vaping

7 insights to help shape interventions

Putting young people's voices at the centre of teen vaping solutions

9 May 2024
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Drawings related to what young people think about vaping - vapes surrounding people

"[We need] a better understanding of the outcome of vaping and knowing how hard the addiction will hit"

Workshop participant
Icon of phone and love heart

Vapes and pro-vaping content is more accessible than anti-vaping content

We need more anti-vaping content on social media

Most of our youngest participants hadn’t seen any existing anti-vaping campaigns; but had seen ‘cool vaping tricks’ and other pro-vaping content on social media. They also reported seeing peers as young as seven years old experimenting with vaping, with vapes highly accessible at stores, through social media, friends or siblings.​


A constant theme from our discussions was ‘people not going out of their way’ to engage with anti-vaping content, suggesting it is not currently integrated into their lives. ​


The change that’s needed:​

  • Consistent anti-vaping messaging, integrated into daily routines across digital and physical spaces​.
Icon of phone and the text #vapes

Current interventions aren't resonating 

We need to hold space for young people's curiosity

For the interventions that our participants have been exposed to, they were generally unable to remember core messages and had not been compelled to engage with further information. ​Often, young people said anti-caping content was delivered in a ‘lecture-style’ format causing them to ‘switch-off’, and feel frustrated at the lack of dialogue. ​

Content that they had seen online had been delivered in ‘skippable’ formats, with our participants skipping past wherever possible.


The change that’s needed:​

  • Messaging that is developed specifically for curious young people​. See UNCLOUD, a key platform for young people to find peer-to-peer, scientifically-backed information about vapes, and see vaping for what it is. 
  • Anti-vaping content that is engaging, dynamic and holds space for curious young people to have open and judgment-free conversations
Icon of love heart and speech bubble

Punishment is perceived as the primary intervention used to prevent vaping

We need more conversations and empathy

Whilst identifying as non-vapers, our participants associated vaping with punishment often in the form of suspicion, surveillance or suspension.​

Young people experience this fear of punishment without any conversation around support or solutions. This contributes to them feeling overwhelmed and stigmatised, and not open to vaping education in these spaces. 


The change that’s needed:​

  • Supportive messaging and empathetic conversations that are solution focused, linking to appropriate cessation support
  • Vaping treated as a wellbeing issue in previously punitive environments
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Young people aren't having open conversations about vaping - even amongst themselves

It's not an open discussion 

Our participants spoke about fears of judgement, or ‘it getting back to their siblings’ if they openly talked about their curiosity about vaping. This also extends to the perceived social stigma with both choosing to vape, or choosing not to vape. ​


The change that’s needed:​

  • Safe, honest and judgement-free conversations with people that young people trust. UNCLOUD is an example of a peer-to-peer platform where young people can find scientifically-backed information about vapes, seeing vaping for what it is.
Icon of people in conversation

Parents aren't talking about vaping early or often enough

Prevention starts at home 

Parents' smoking histories showed up as a highly influential factor in our participants’ exposure to or engagement in vaping. Research tells us that young people genuinely care about what their parents think and trust their opinion. Find out more about the research here. 

None of the younger participants (aged 12/13) had talked about vaping with their parents, however most of the group indicated they would like to have open conversations with them. 


The change that’s needed:​

  • Empowering parents to have open conversations with their kids. VicHealth in partnership with The Behaviour Change Collaborative has developed a guide that can help parents have meaningful, non-threatening conversations with their teens about vaping. Download the guide here.
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There are high levels of curiosity about the origins and industry behind vaping

Young people want to understand more

Curiosity and capacity to comprehend ‘Big Tobacco’ is higher than we anticipated in our participants. They want to know who invented vaping, why it is marketed to kids and why it hasn't been better controlled.​

This generation have grown up surrounded by big issues. They show an appetite for understanding what is happening at a system-level to find themselves in the vaping landscape they’re in now.


The change that’s needed:​

  • Informative anti-vaping content targeted at younger age groups, that fills knowledge-gaps and doesn't shy away from big concepts
Icon of thought bubble and a vape

Understanding stories of addiction and how to spot it is a key need

Addiction is a key issue

Young people told us their friends who vape are denying they're addicted (in their own words). Our participants also spoke about how they weren’t sure how to spot addiction in their friends. ​

There's a dangerous perception that 'I'll have more self-control when I'm older', which creates a mindset around experimenting in months or years to come. 


The change that’s needed:​

  • Content featuring human stories, de-stigmatising addiction, in even younger age groups​. For example, UNCLOUD is a peer-to-peer platform that creates space for young people to hear from their peers about the harms of vaping - and see vaping for what it is. 
  • Content talking about how to spot and identify addiction. Quitline has a range of tailored cessation support services and resources for parents and young people.

"An open discussion - not middle-aged men who lecture you"

Workshop participant
Title

Principles

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Drawing of star

Authentic 

Authenticity is a highly valued currency for young people: they want to hear from real people, with real stories to understand the reality of vaping first-hand. ​

 

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Drawing of magnifying glass

Transparent

Transparency acknowledges the curiosity, appetite and intellect of young people. They want to get the facts on things like addiction and bad actors, without exaggeration or fluff.

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Drawing of fist

Empowering

Young people want to move away from punitive-based measures to empowering support from people they trust: interventions must be actionable and solutions focused

 

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Two hand shaking

Trustworthy

Misinformation has eroded trust. Evidence-based and trusted information from government and health organisations is essential to fill current knowledge gaps.​

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Interventions

Ideas from young people on how and where they might engage with anti-vaping messaging.​

 

The change that's needed:

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From

  • Lecture-style delivery with no opportunity for questions​
  • Punitive measures, e.g. fines or suspension​
  • Engagements led by adult authority figures without open and judgement free dialogue.​
  • Lack of diverse experiences, e.g. only positive/healthy behaviour modelling​
  • Requiring public disclosure of vaping status to engage​
  • Requiring proactive travel or time allocation outside of daily activities
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To

  • Discussions in small groups​
  • Vaping framed as a wellbeing issue​
  • Resources led by young people​
  • People with diverse experiences​ - including stories of vapers and non-vapers
  • Engaging or unexpected formats​ - young people want messages to disrupt their daily lives
  • Opportunities for anonymous contribution​
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At sporting programs

We heard that:

We heard that hobbies are an important way to connect with others and influence change, particularly when highlighting the health and social impacts of vaping.  ​

Opportunities to leverage local influential figures, such as coaches or teammates, as well as aspirational figures such as sporting stars or influencers were well received. ​

However, there were also concerns that time spent on vaping interventions might detract from training time in this setting.

How might we:​

  • Engage young people in healthier activities?

 

People high fiving while playing sport

Mother and daughter walking down the street
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In the community 

We heard that:

We heard incidental intervention, where messaging occurs in unexpected places, could be a powerful tactic for educating young people. ​

Our regional and metropolitan participants had mixed locations here, such as some travelling via car more so than public transport, but all welcomed learning more about vaping and discussions in families being triggered by intervention stimulus.​

Key locations of intervention discussed:​

  • Shopping centres​
  • Public transport​
  • Public toilets ​
  • Community centres​

How might we:​

  • Enable deep conversation in communities from incidental interventions?​
  • Tailor community interventions based on their unique needs? ​
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About the insights

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Who we spoke to

Susceptible young Victorians

In 2023, The Behaviour Change Collaborative (The BCC) ran a large-scale survey of young people aged 12-18 across Australia, resulting in the report ‘Influencing Gen Vape –A 7-cluster segmentation of teen vaping’. This report identified seven behavioural and attitudinal segments in young Australians.


 

For this piece of work we spoke to young people who are susceptible to vaping. 
Susceptible teens have never vaped, but are the most vulnerable of the non-vape segments to trial vaping. Based on the BCC’s report, we also know that they: 

  • Are curious about vaping
  • Usually present in social situations where vaping is common 
  • Care more about what others think of them 
  • Want to fit in with others 
  • Less confident about what to do if offered a vape

Artwork by Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022
VicHealth acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land. We pay our respects to all Elders past, present and future.
This website may contain images, names and voices of deceased people.

VicHealth acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.

Artwork Credit: Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022, acrylic on canvas. Learn more about this artwork.