Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Urgent call from community to help vape ‘pandemic’ impacting Pasifika youth

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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John Pulu | Presenter/ Reporter/Director

Vape, also known as e-cigarettes, is an option for people to quit smoking but the problem is Pasifika youth have taken up vaping users as young as nine years old. As John Pulu reports its popularity is raising real concerns and smoke-free advocates are calling for immediate action from authorities

It’s the small device sparking lots of discussion.

Vapes or e-cigarettes are another form of smoking. They come in the size of a small pen and work by heating a flavoured liquid – which can contain nicotine – turning it into a vapour which is inhaled.

It’s a recipe that’s got our youth hooked.

“I know some people do it to release stress and just get stuff off their mind,” one youngster says.

Another young person was encouraged by friends at school, “yea I’ve tried it but it’s not good for you.”

Others have tried it, “I used to vape but not anymore just cos I feel the dizziness of it so then I just kind of stopped.”

Another person is vaping to quit smoking cigarettes however, he admits, “… it makes me want to keep smoking.”

Youth leader Hadleigh Pouesi. Photo: Tagata Pasifika

Youth worker Hadleigh Pouesi knows the issue first hand.

“I know that we see a lot of them every day here at our youth centre. We’ve got on a normal day, we’ll have around 50 young people come through and use our drop in space, I would say at least half of them probably have a vape in their pocket and we are dealing with young people as young as 9 years old up to 18,” Pouesi says.

The youth centre he manages in West Auckland is open for young people to hang out after school. However, the mentors there are now having to police what students bring to the space.

“It’s the ability to hide it, it’s the ability to conceal it, it’s the ability to use it inside and, if not, set off our alarms.

“It’s just the normality, that it’s seen like it’s normal for young people to have a vape. It’s cool for young people to have a vape which is even worse,” Pouesi added.

The ministry of health reports the number of young New Zealanders aged 15 to 17 who vape daily has quadrupled since 2018, a real concern for local schools.

Vapes or e-cigarettes come in the size of a small pen and work by heating a flavoured liquid. Photo: Tagata Pasifika

Vaughan Couillault is the president of the secondary principals’ association of New Zealand. He is worried about vapes showing up at high schools and even at intermediate and primary school level.

“The reality is we’ve seen an exponential growth in our young people taking up vaping possibly and probably even people that wouldn’t have taken up smoking have taken up vaping and so we are at this sort of endemic stage where it is rife through all of our communities,” Couillault says.

Vapes are banned at schools and teachers are having a tough time monitoring the students. Couillault says they are running out of options and it’s getting out of hand.

Smoke-free advocates are fired up as vapes have taken up the spotlight while cigarette smoking is on the decline.

Tala Pasifika director Lealailepule Edward Cowley (left) has been collecting submissions from the community for new tobacco regulations but is now adding vaping to the list. Photo: Tagata Pasifika

Advocacy group Tala Pasifika has been collecting submissions from the community for new tobacco regulations but now they are adding vaping to the list. Director Lealailepule Edward Cowley says more needs to be done.

“The law was passed in December in and around tightening tobacco control but also tightening areas in the vaping space,” he says.

“In and around the number of retailers, we currently have 6000. We are looking at dropping that to 600 which means there’s only going to be 33 retailers in Auckland that will sell tobacco and taking nicotine out of the tobacco that our people don’t get addicted to it.”

Others are calling on the government to get tougher on vape stores, even proposing to raise the age restriction to 21 years old.

Vaughan Couillault says he wants New Zealand to adopt what they are doing across the Tasman.

“I sort of like what they’ve done in Australia in terms of prescription access in some states in Australia where it’s a genuine ‘get yourself off smoking deal’ and creating some prescriptive access.”

Pouesi says the focus now is prevention and recovery.

“We are having to go to government and try and implement laws post the damage being done, we are trying to go to schools and figure out what are the policies. We are trying to go to ministries and say what can we do to be a community voice for vaping because it wasn’t done before it arrived,” he says.

“We are doing everything with the reactionary mindset, I don’t know if it’s something that we will be able to solve but we are willing to be a part of the fight.”


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