Since the introduction of national tobacco prevention programmes in the 1980s, Australia has experienced declining rates of youth smoking, with the latest figures showing that only 3.4% of 12-17 year-olds smoke daily.  Across the wider population we have seen a dramatic shift in the way most Australians regard smoking. Recently, however, novel ways of smoking have come onto the scene which challenge some of the core messages delivered in tobacco prevention, potentially impacting on this change in attitude and behaviour.

‘Shisha’ smoking appears to be becoming increasingly popular and at a time when we have effectively made tobacco smoking an ‘anti-social’ activity, shisha bars and the like challenge that view. Electronic or ‘e-cigarettes’ produce a vapour, not smoke, when used and ‘vaping’ is being heavily marketed as a ‘healthy alternative’ to smoking.

‘Shisha’ is a tobacco mix usually containing a sweetener, as well as assorted flavourings ranging from fruit through to chocolate. Shisha smoking, via a ‘hookah’ or water pipe appears to be becoming increasingly popular amongst Australian young people due to the following:

  • Much greater visibility – with the number of ‘shisha bars’ increasing across many parts of the country
  • Shisha is seen as a ‘social activity’
  • Many do not regard it as smoking – if they do, it is a ‘safer way’ or a ‘safe alternative’ to cigarette smoking
  • Heavily promoted with misleading and often false claims – products marketed as ‘herbal mixtures’, ‘nicotine free’, ‘tobacco free’ and ‘tar free’

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices which heat liquid (called e-liquid) into an aerosol (or ‘vapour’) which is then inhaled into a person’s lungs. Some e-liquids contain nicotine, while others do not. As with shisha, flavourings are usually added, with over 7000 being identified in products currently available.

Two of the major concerns raised by health professionals about e-cigarettes, particularly in relation to young people, are as follows:

  • They are promoted as a ‘safe alternative’ to smoking – because users are inhaling a vapour instead of smoke they are marketed as a healthier option than cigarettes and other tobacco products
  • Aggressive marketing challenges many of our key anti-smoking messages – with advertising similar to that for tobacco in the 1950s and 60s, e-cigarettes are marketed as glamorous and a safe and social activity

As shisha and the use of e-cigarettes increases and vaping becomes more visible, whether it be via advertising, use on television programs or movies or through personal contact, it is important that young people (and those that work with this group) have access to accurate and up-to-date information on the potential risks associated with their use so that they are able to make informed decisions.

Fact sheets developed for teachers, but suitable for all who work with young people, on ‘Shisha smoking’ and ‘e-cigarettes’, including a list of resources and references can be found on the DARTA website.

A downloadable PDF version of the PPT presentation, including a list of references, will also be made available once it has been delivered at the Generation Next.

–  By Paul Dillon – Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA)

For further information on DARTA and its activities please go to the DARTA website. You can also follow DARTA’s two blogs, ‘Doing Drugs with Paul Dillon’ and ‘The Real Deal on Drugs’.

Paul Dillon will be speaking in Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney on the health impacts of novel forms of smoking.