UCT Lung Institute Study: Rich Kids Increasingly Vaping to Deal With Stress
Research across three provinces shows that vaping is increasingly seen as a stress-reliever amongst wealthier kids, with their preferred substances being tobacco and cannabis.
25 September 2023 at 15:00:00
South African high school pupils from high-income schools are increasingly turning to vaping as a coping mechanism against stress, and some parents are believed to be giving vaping devices to their children because they believe it’s far less harmful than drugs.
This is according to a survey conducted by the University of Cape Town Lung Institute on 6 922 high school learners, from Grade 8 to 12, in 12 high-income fee-paying brackets across three provinces.
UCT Consultant Pulmonologist Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit said high school pupils are stressed, and although they may have access to better resources to help them manage this stress, they choose vaping instead.
"I think all our high school learners are stressed about all sorts of things, and [vaping], unfortunately, seems to be where they go to ... I think there is a generational issue here where we just have not equipped this group of high school learners to persist and deal with [life’s] complexities," he said in a News24 interview.
The survey found that teens rely on various substances to cope with stress. These include tobacco, cannabis, hookah, and vaping, the most preferred method of smoking or smoking substitutes.
Grade 12 pupils vape the most at 26.5%. This is followed by Grade 11 learners (17.4%) Grade 10s (13%), Grade 9s (10.8%), with Grade 8s vaping the least.
Van Zyl-Smit said most teens get hooked on vaping, mainly due to the temporary relief nicotine provides and sometimes due to peer pressure, since vaping is social.
"We know from tobacco smoking that the nicotine is the issue. Nicotine results in a dopamine response, which is the so-called happy or pleasure hormone.
"When you smoke, dopamine goes up, and you feel better. It is a way of giving an immediate sense of calm through dopamine, like any other drug to help with anxiety or concatenation. It’s a very easy and convenient way to get that response," said Van Zyl-Smit.
Accessing vaping devices
Teenagers from high-income schools most likely buy vaping devices themselves, but some parents also aid in pupils getting these devices.
This, according to Van Zyl-Smit, is because parents believe that vaping is far less harmful than cigarettes, drugs, or other substances.
"I’m not convinced that all parents are aware. There certainly are a lot of parents who say 'at least it’s not drugs, Here’s your vaping device'.
"I’ve heard from various people [that parents also say] '16th birthday, here’s your vaping pen'. Parents are being told it’s better than tobacco so they therefore assume it’s safe for their high school learners and, therefore prefer that they vape rather than smoke," he said.
Reduce vaping in SA high schools
The vaping industry in South Africa is currently the subject of heated debate over its regulation. It is difficult to do with vaping devices in schools, Van Zyl-Smit said.
"The complete lack of regulation is a problem. Vapes are a free for all, you can buy them anywhere and anyone can buy them. There’s no restriction of access.
"We need to restrict it. It’s not going to prevent it, it’s going to reduce access. I think an enormous education campaign is needed. The problem is that you need to counteract social media, marketing, and all the promotion by the vaping industry that makes it look attractive," said Van Zyl-Smit.
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Cannabis in South Africa: The People’s Plant
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