A 12-year-old girl has told how she started vaping at age 6.
The girl, one of a group in school uniform aged between 12 and 16, talked about the habit as they passed a vape between them in Rotorua.
“I started vaping when I was 6 years old,” the now 12-year-old girl said.
She said her older brother bought her vapes.
When asked if she was worried about her lungs, she said, “Nah, not really. You only live once and you’re gonna die anyways. Might as well.”
The girls believed vaping was “cool”.
“I started vaping last year cause everyone else in my [school] year was. I get it from my friends,” a 16-year-old said.
The group nicknamed the nicotine “nics” but they did not know how many milligrams were in the shared vape.
“I’m just so addicted to it,” a 15-year-old said.
“I like the flavour. It gives me a taste that is just really bomb.”
In Tauranga, Lavena Officer said she started vaping at 16 because she thought it was “cool”.
Now, the 22-year-old was too addicted to quit.
The Tauranga woman spends $50 on 50mg of nicotine salt disposables a week and has struggled to kick the habit.
“I’ve tried before to stop. It’s almost impossible, to be honest.”
Officer, who suffered a lung infection that lasted three months last winter, says her general respiratory health has deteriorated since she started vaping.
These comments come as Action for Smokefree 2025 (ASH) released a new proposal to raise the vaping age from 18 to 21 and Australia announced a ban on all non-prescription vapes.
Officer believed New Zealand should ban vaping altogether and described it as a waste of money and “a healthy set of lungs”.
In her view: “No one knows what the side effects of [vaping] will be.”
According to the most recent New Zealand Health Survey, the number of New Zealanders aged 15 to 17 who vaped every day quadrupled in three years, from about 2 per cent in 2018-2019 to about 8 per cent in 2021-2022.
The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act 2020 - which restricted the sale of smoked tobacco products to a limited number of approved retail shops and prohibited anyone from selling or supplying them to people born after January 1, 2009 - was introduced in November 2020.
The Ministry of Health said the Government’s aim was to strike a balance between preventing the uptake of vaping among youths and supporting smokers to switch to a “less harmful product”.
Asthma and Respiratory Foundation chief executive, Letitia Harding, said the foundation was “extremely worried” by the current “epidemic” of youth vaping in New Zealand.
Its own survey of 19,000 secondary students in 2021 found that 20 per cent of students were vaping daily or several times a day.
“In recent years, we have been inundated with calls from parents, young people and educators who are telling us directly about how widespread and entrenched this problem has become.”
Harding said she was unsure if lifting the age limit would impact the accessibility of vapes to teens and instead suggested banning disposable vapes, limiting maximum nicotine content to 20mg, and preventing vape stores within a 1km radius of schools.
However, Otumoetai College principal Russell Gordon said regardless of where vape stores were located, vaping had “such a grip on our young people”.
“Sadly people who are hooked on nicotine have [often] never in their lives smoked.”
Gordon said he agreed with Australia’s ban on all non-prescription vapes and lifting the vaping age to 21.
Eighteen-year-old Chloe Robinson started smoking cigarettes at age 14.
Chloe said “friend circles’' played a part in her taking up the habit.
Robinson switched to vaping after smoking became too expensive and said it helped calm her when she was feeling anxious.
Responding to the proposal to lift the vaping age, she said disposable vapes should be banned but vape devices and the juice should remain accessible to those aged 18.
James Hubbard started vaping two years ago.
He spends $60 a week on 50mg nicotine salt disposable vapes.
The 20-year-old from Rotorua said he would like to see New Zealand follow Australia’s ban on non-prescription vapes because “no one really knows the long-term effects”.
An employee of a Bay of Plenty vape store, who spoke on condition they were not named, said 18-year-old students often entered the store in their school uniforms to buy vaping products and were instantly turned away because it was not a good look.
Disposable vapes were the most popular product among young people becauses they were “cheap and convenient”.
The employee said they fully supported raising the vaping age to 21 and the business “triple checks” every ID. “We are very mindful and check with a fine-tooth comb.”
Virajkumar Patel, manager of St Andrew Vape Store in Rotorua, supported the proposal to lift the vaping age.
“[We] don’t want young people vaping and affecting their health.”
Patel said the staff always checked IDs.
“We don’t sell to underage [people].”
In a statement, ASH director Ben Youdan said the organisation did not want young people, most of whom had never smoked before, to start vaping.
Youdan said most young people who vaped were not addicted but were experimenters, or occasional users vaping weekly or less.
“We need to balance preventing non-smoking young people from vaping, but at the same time support addicted adults who smoke to switch to vaping ..”
Youdan said ASH strongly discouraged banning non-prescription vapes, saying it would only prolong the life of the tobacco industry.
Action for Smokefree 2025 (ASH) has also outlined new proposals to help tackle youth vaping.
These included strengthening and enforcing regulations on marketing, access, and sales of vapes to protect young people and raising the age restriction to 21.
ASH also wanted to reduce the appeal of vaping to children and provide resources to teachers and others working with young people to support vaping prevention.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the Government aimed to strike a balance between preventing children and young people from taking up vaping and supporting smokers to switch to a “less harmful product”.
The spokesperson said the Government had indicated no plans to restrict vapes to prescription-only, which would require a legislative change.
The Ministry said the emergence of vaping products over the past decade had been a dramatic reduction in smoking rates, and the availability of vaping is part of the reason for this reduction.
“Overall, the daily smoking rate in New Zealand is now 8 per cent, a big drop from 14.5 per cent about seven years ago.”
Mount Maunganui general practitioner Dr Tony Farrell said nicotine use caused addiction.
“In adolescents, it may be associated with changes in brain development so it is more harmful to young people.
He said managing regulations was a “balancing act to reduce harm, which we [New Zealand] don’t do well with alcohol”.
Rotorua GP Dr Cate Mills said banning or restricting the age of sales would benefit youth.
She said vaping had the potential to have the same effects on the body as smoking but at the moment it was “guesswork” as to what the exact harm of vaping was.
Get Smart Tauranga’s clinical lead April O’Hanlon said a small percentage of people who tried substances would experience long-term harm.
“Addiction involves complex interactions between the brain, genetic predisposition, the environment, and a person’s life experiences.”