Experts have sounded the alarm over a rise in TikTok videos coercing young kids to take up smoking and vaping, leading doctors to call for an outright ban on the online sale of e-cigarettes in Australia.
An inquiry into Australia’s new vaping and smoking laws heard chilling evidence from peak medical groups on Wednesday.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said more young people than ever were being “actively and aggressively” targeted by e-cigarette sellers online through platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.
“Digital platforms such as TikTok have seen a rise in videos promoting e-cigarettes, with 63 per cent of the total e-cigarette videos depicting the product positively and a total of more than 1.1 billion views,” their submission read
Under TikTok’s community guidelines policy, users are prohibited from posting, streaming or sharing any content that “offers the purchase, sale, trade, or solicitation of drugs or other controlled substances, alcohol or tobacco products”.
AMA NSW president Michael Bonning said poor content regulation from digital platform owners meant children were being increasingly exposed to harmful online digital content.
He said the government must “urgently” push through laws to implement a retail ban on non-prescription e-cigarettes.
“After a prolonged decline of nicotine use (in Australia), (I see) more smokers, more vapers, more chronic cough, new lung disease in young people, people who through their vapes are ingesting more than 3-4 packs of cigarettes per day,” he said.
“It took decades for the health harms of tobacco to come to light, with the powerful tobacco industry disputing the evidence and relentlessly promoting their addictive products.
“We see the same tactics at play today with vapes, hooking a new generation onto nicotine by marketing directly to younger people and downplaying the health harms.”
According to the Tobacco Vape Research Collective (TVRC), vaping is widely promoted to young people on social media apps through the use of brightly-coloured images, “fun” flavours and highly sexualised images.
Curtin University researcher Jonine Jancey said Gen Zers spend more than four hours a day on apps and online advertising techniques had become “increasingly complex”.
One study found the overwhelming majority of TikTok videos portrayed vaping in a positive light, with more than a quarter in stark violation of the platform’s social media policy.
“Current policies and moderation processes appear to be insufficient in restricting the spread of pro-e-cigarette content on TikTok, putting predominantly young users at potential risk of e-cigarette use,” a TVRC submission read.
The evidence come months after the federal government announced that it would outlaw non-prescription vaping products in May in the biggest smoking reforms in decades.
It is unknown when a promised ban on all disposable vapes will hit the nation, but it’s understood the government will seek to move an import ban through parliament by the end of 2023.