A CLOGGED toilet at a Newcastle high school offers something of an illustrative lesson on the pernicious nature of addiction.
Vapes crammed in the pipes may initially sound like a punchline, but it is indicative of exactly how large the problem of e-cigarette use among youth has become. High school rebellion is nothing new, but vapes are.
Expert advice continues to mount that the dangers of the items long promoted as a less inconsiderate alternative to more conventional tobacco products are legion.
Tobacco more broadly is an industry with a shameful history of deceptive tactics. In the US, companies were eventually compelled to release corrective statements on the health impacts suppressed from the public during the heyday of cigarette consumption.
Now, at least, cigarettes and heightened risk of disease are essentially synonymous for most people.
That should offer a warning to youth.
To put it starkly, there are plenty who today live with the ramifications of smoking during that era, and more who no longer do as a result of the diseases that can stem from these products.
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In the case of cigarettes and alcohol, these legal vices are open to consenting adults to make their own choices about whether to imbibe.
But experts remain concerned about the absence of standardisation across vaping products, or clear lists of ingredients, which they warn could have serious ramifications in the future - just like the fomented uncertainty around cigarettes' harms did for far too long.
The National Health and Medical Research Council released its latest report on electronic cigarettes on Wednesday, saying the devices are not only harmful but there is limited evidence they help smokers quit the habit.
No brand of e-cigarette has been evaluated or approved by the medicines regulator as an aid to stop smoking, the council's chief executive Professor Anne Kelso said.
"If you're thinking about e-cigarettes, please get the facts. The evidence is clear," Professor Kelso said.
Australia's top medical officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said on Wednesday a colleague had recently observed only COVID-19 was a bigger health issue for the country.
Experts are equally concerned about the gateway effect created by devices that normalise any form of vapour consumption that could lead to more harmful habits becoming even more widespread.
A population survey this month found youth vaping rates had doubled. Now more than one in 10 people aged 16 to 24 have used e-cigarettes between 2020 and 2021, a doubling of the rate the prior year.
With smoking in decline, it is a worrying trend that could keep the health effects of tobacco present in our lives and our health system longer than anyone would wish.
Education campaigns abound, but schools alone are unlikely to turn around the growing problem of vapes. It is a discussion worth having at home to halt the trend.
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