Central Coast Local Health District’s director of public health, Dr Kat Taylor, and director of health promotion and population health improvement, Niki Kajons, look at how we should consider both tobacco and vaping harms on World No Tobacco Day.

As we approach World No Tobacco Day on Friday 31 May, one could be forgiven for merely focusing energies on how to protect our community from the harms of tobacco.

But doing so would let a close relative off the hook – vaping.

Indeed, many vaping products are owned by big tobacco companies who have created an illusion that vapes are a non-harmful alternative to cigarettes. It’s a clever tactic to get a new generation of customers hooked.

However, behind this smokescreen the fact remains that both cigarettes and e-cigarettes cause serious health harms. They also both typically contain nicotine, one of the most addictive substances in the world. Often, in the case of vapes, this is contrary to what packaging says.

And so, when we look at this year’s World No Tobacco Day theme of Protecting children from tobacco industry interference, it’s clear our focus should be on harms from both cigarettes and vapes.

In an excellent piece written for The Conversation last year, Professor Renee Bittoun, who started Australia’s first clinic for people who smoke more than 40 years ago, argues that we should be considering second-hand aerosol emitted from vapes the same as second-hand smoke.

She is, of course, absolutely right.

The aerosol from vapes contains a toxic mix of chemicals that can also found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray. It can also contain heavy metals shed from the heating coil inside the device. Some of these chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, heart disease and lung damage.

That’s why the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000, which prohibits smoking in enclosed public places and many outdoor public areas, also includes vaping. To put it simply: no smoking means no vaping.

For our community’s health and wellbeing, we simply must do all we can to keep the Central Coast smoke- and vape-free.

Central Coast Health Promotion Service is leading the way, working alongside Council to increase awareness of these laws by sharing health awareness posters highlighting the no vaping message at all health service sites, sporting facilities, parks, and reserves.

We’re also providing the University of Wollongong with confiscated vapes from local high schools for analysis of their contents and any emerging trends in products. Since May last year, we’ve collected 319 vapes.

In addition, projects that dovetail with the NSW curriculum, such as YourWay (see page 30 of our Year in Review), are empowering students to raise awareness of the harms of vaping amongst their peers.

Meanwhile, our Public Health Unit provides support to the NSW Ministry of Health’s active compliance and enforcement team to monitor illegal sales of tobacco or vapes.

Across the state, in 2023, NSW Health conducted more than 3,000 retail inspections, seizing:

  • around 431,000 nicotine vapes and e-liquids with an estimated street value of over $13.7 million.
  • more than 4.8 million cigarettes and 1,700 kilograms of other illegal tobacco products, with an estimated street value of over $5.8 million.

The community can play its part too. This statewide compliance and enforcement program is informed by complaints made by the public.

If you suspect a tobacco or e-cigarette retailing law has been broken, you can call the Tobacco Information Line on 1800 357 412 or reports this on the NSW Health website. Information collected will help to guide the enforcement of tobacco and e-cigarette retailing laws by NSW Health inspectors in the Central Coast area.

There is action you can take too, such as:

  • Promote the ‘No smoking means no vaping’ message. If you are a local business, school, community group or sports club, new health promotion posters are available from NSW Health to go alongside existing mandated ‘no smoking’ signs.
  • Call the Quitline program on 13 7848 for advice from a trained counsellor on how you can support a loved one on their journey to quit smoking or vaping.
  • Visit our E-Cigarettes and Vaping webpage to learn more the harms of vaping and further support available.

The tobacco and vaping industry continues to put their profits before our health, with relentless marketing that is designed to get people hooked to their harmful products.

However, by working together with local organisations and people, we can stay one step ahead and help protect the health of our community and future generations.