NSW Health launches new campaign to encourage young people to get off vapes

Xavier Roper was about 30 minutes away from suffocating when he woke in the middle of the night, gasping for breath.

He was rushed to hospital with his oxygen levels hovering somewhere around 40 per cent. He narrowly escaped intubation, but spent the next week in the intensive care unit, having the “medicine book thrown at him” in order to return his stubbornly low levels to normal.

He’d been vaping heavily for “between six to nine months” after leaving high school, to the point where he almost constantly had a vape in his hands.

He was puffing “about every five minutes”, which had weakened his lungs to such a point that catching a small illness could have almost killed him.

Two years later, he’s sharing his “terrifying” story in the hopes he can inspire the thousands of young people who’ve picked up the “insidious” habit to quit.

“I realised that I could have died. Maybe 20 minutes, 30 minutes later if I didn’t get to hospital on time, I could have suffocated,” he said.

Mr Roper had first taken a few puffs of a vape socially because it seemed “innocent” to him, after smoking cigarettes in high school and getting himself off that.

“It’s a pretty slippery slope (though), going from having a puff or two of your friends’ vape at a party, to buying your own vape, to having it constantly in your hand,” he told NCA NewsWire.

“Through that six to nine months of vaping pretty heavily, I could gradually feel myself getting worse. It was like a wet blanket over my lungs.

“But going to the ICU was one of the scariest times of my life. I’ve not touched one since, it scared the hell out of me and I’ve been cold turkey since.”

Mr Roper is one of a number of young, former vapers, recruited by NSW Health as part of a new campaign to crackdown on the addictive practice, sharing the message that “every vape is a hit to your health”.

The latest NSW Population Health Survey shows rates of vaping between 16-24 year-olds quadrupled from 4.5 per cent in 2019-2020 to 16.5 per cent in 2021-22.

NSW Health Minister Ryan Park said by putting young people at the centre of the campaign to drive vaping rates back down, he hoped more people could seek support.

“This is very important because we know regular nicotine consumption can cause changes to a young person’s brain development, learning and memory, and may worsen stress, depression and anxiety.

“I want to thank the young people who have come forward to share their stories and their experiences in grappling with vaping, in the hope that they can help others.

“It took us three quarters of a century to reduce smoking among men from 72 per cent to 14 per cent.

“We have an opportunity to stem the tide of another emerging public health crisis that could have a lasting impact for generations of young people to come.”

The NSW government has invested $25m this financial year on tobacco and e-cigarette control, including more than $3m from Cancer Institute NSW for the new campaign.

The government will spend an additional $2.5m over the next 12 months to increase services to help young people quit vaping, including a new digital platform and an online learning module.

Federally, importing disposable single use vapes has been banned since January 1.

Mr Roper’s story is not the only one that Mr Park hopes will encourage more young people to put their vapes down.

One person in the campaign spoke about how his vaping had gotten so bad it got to the point of feeling like his lungs “were on fire”.

He said he would try to take a deep breath in, but would feel instead that his lungs were “squeezing in on themselves”.

“You think you’re not going to get addicted, but you will,” he said.

One woman, who said she had since given up, spoke about “coughing black stuff into a tissue”, while another woman said she suddenly was experiencing “lung pain” in her 20s.

“I really did think I was going to die,” she said.

In one advertisement, centring around addiction, one woman said she would have a hit of her vape “every ten seconds”.

Another one said it was the “first thing” she would do in the morning, and would continue to hit her vape between classes at school.

Mr Roper lamented the fact that Australia had spent so long getting cigarette use down to such a low level, just to have vaping threaten to wipe out decades of good work.

He said he knew of people as young as 14 and 15 who were sharing vapes in between high school classes.

Mr Roper said he’s spent the last two years hassling his friends, even going so far as to confiscate vapes from his friends on a night out.

“It’s just not worth it to vape. They’re insidious in nature. You can so easily go from a here and there puff to … willingly poisoning yourself,” he said.

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