Health experts are sounding the alarm as the proliferation of TikTok videos promoting smoking and vaping among young Australians continues to rise. In response to this alarming trend, doctors are urging the Australian government to implement a complete ban on the online sale of e-cigarettes within the country.
A recent inquiry into Australia’s vaping and smoking regulations heard worrisome testimonies from prominent medical organizations. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has reported that e-cigarette vendors are actively and aggressively targeting a growing number of young individuals through online platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
According to their submission, TikTok has seen a significant increase in videos endorsing e-cigarettes, with 63 percent of these videos portraying the products positively and accumulating over 1.1 billion views. Despite TikTok’s community guidelines prohibiting content related to the sale, trade, or promotion of drugs, controlled substances, alcohol, or tobacco products, the lax regulation by platform administrators permits harmful content to reach a young audience.
AMA NSW President Michael Bonning stressed the urgent necessity for the government to enact legislation imposing a retail ban on non-prescription e-cigarettes. He voiced concerns about the escalating prevalence of smoking and vaping, especially among young people, resulting in chronic cough and new lung ailments. Bonning drew parallels between the historical tactics used by the tobacco industry to promote their products and the contemporary marketing strategies employed by the vaping industry.
The Tobacco Vape Research Collective (TVRC) observed that vaping is extensively marketed to young people through social media applications, using vibrant imagery, enticing flavors, and sexualized content. Curtin University researcher Jonine Jancey pointed out that Generation Z spends more than four hours a day on these apps, and online advertising tactics have become increasingly sophisticated. Research indicates that a significant majority of TikTok videos portray vaping positively, with over a quarter of them violating the platform’s social media policy.
Given this compelling evidence, the federal government announced its intention to prohibit non-prescription vaping products in May, marking one of the most substantial smoking-related reforms in decades. The exact timeline for the anticipated ban on disposable vapes remains uncertain, but it is expected that the government will seek to pass an import ban through parliament by the close of 2023.