Demand for new youth anti-vaping program surges as Parliament considers world-leading vaping reforms

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Vaping in schools is a health problem that demands Australia-wide government action.
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Unprecedented concerns around rising vaping rates in schools show the need for immediate action, a recent trial has shown.

A research trial of a program aiming to reduce the number of students vaping and smoking, developed and delivered by the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre proved hugely popular and was taken up by 250 high schools across Australia.

As part of the University of Sydney, the Matilda Centre brings together world-leading researchers, clinicians, people with lived experience and community to share skills, synergise data, harness new technologies and trial innovative programs to prevent and treat mental and substance use disorders.

The popularity of the OurFutures vaping program is indicative of the huge concerns of teachers and school communities about the rising popularity and dangers of vaping.

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Teachers and school communities’ concerns are matched by Albanese Government action, with world-leading legislation to protect children, young people and all Australians from the harms of vaping currently before the parliament.

Vaping is number one behavioural issue in Australian schools

Data shows one in six high school students have vaped recently. Vapes have become the number one behavioural issue in many schools and studies have shown that nine out of 10 vape shops are within walking distance of schools.

The Albanese Government’s legislation regulates vaping as a therapeutic good, by banning the importation, manufacture, supply, and commercial possession of disposable single use and non-therapeutic vapes.

Should the legislation pass later this year, anyone who is in genuine need will be able to purchase a regulated vape from a pharmacist, with a prescription.

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The Albanese Government is implementing several other measures to improve health outcomes, including: more help for people to quit smoking and vaping through the development and expansion of national quit support initiatives, increased awareness and education via new public health campaigns, and newly developed clinical guidelines from primary health clinicians.

A vaping prevention program that works

The Matilda Centre OurFutures vaping program is the first rigorously developed online vaping prevention program currently under evaluation. More than eight in 10 students and teachers have rated the program highly, with more than eight in 10 students saying it would help them in future.

“Vapes were sold to governments and communities around the world as a therapeutic good: a product that could help hardened smokers – usually people in their 40s or 50s – to quit smoking and kick the habit, not one targeted at children but that is what has happened,” says Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler.

“If vapes are therapeutic goods then it is entirely appropriate that Australia should regulate them as therapeutic goods, instead of allowing them to be sold alongside candy bars in convenience stores, often down the road from schools.

“The Parliament now has a once-in-a-generation opportunity and responsibility to act to safeguard the health of young Australians for generations to come. The best time to have done this was five years ago, the second-best time is now.

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“We urge all Parliamentarians to stand with parents, teachers, schools, doctors and public health experts who are calling for urgent action to stop Big Tobacco from cynically preying on young Australians.”

Vaping reform will help support schools

Federal Minister for Education, Jason Clare agrees.

“Vaping is a major public health issue and major issue in our schools,” he says.

“Principals and teachers will tell you that vapes are causing massive behaviour problems in the classroom. Nine out of 10 vapes stores are within walking distance of our schools. This is an industry that is clearly targeting our kids.”

Minister Clare says that’s why “banning the sale of these things from corner stores is so important”.

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“It’s also why resources like the OurFutures vaping program are important – equipping teachers with the tools they need to help to educate young people about the dangers of vaping.”

Collaborative research shows evidence-based resources can work

Associate Professor Emily Stockings from the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre says the numbers of young people presenting with nicotine addiction is happening “at rates we’ve not seen for decades”.

“Preventing nicotine dependence before it develops is the best approach, because it impacts brain development and is incredibly difficult to quit.”

“Programs like OurFutures are not only backed by rigorously tested evidence, but are developed in partnership with young people, parents, teachers, and educators, and give young people a say in their own health decisions.

“Research from Professor Newton, Dr Gardner and myself at the Matilda Centre has shown that engaging Australia’s youth by co-designing reliable, evidence-based resources that they trust breaks through misinformation and gives our youth the tools for a healthier future. 

“It is encouraging that Governments on all levels are serious about combatting vaping harms in young people and we look forward to furthering research into school-based and social-media based interventions in two new MRFF and NHMRC-funded trials.”

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If you need support around vaping or smoking, call the Quitline on 13 78 48.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]