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Social Media, Gen Z's Black Market for Vapes



For hundreds of years, the tobacco industry thrived, offering a product perceived as cool, sophisticated, and sensual. This was until attitudes began to change in the mid 1960's as the health consequences of this lifestyle behaviour became well known, such as cancers, stroke, heart disease, and other preventable illnesses related to smoking.


Smoking in today's day and age is no longer cool. Society often frowns upon people who participate in this behaviour as we are all well aware of and educated on the associated health risks' severe impacts.


Fast forward to 2022, and vaping is the new smoking, and worst still, it is not only the older generation that participates; it is my generation-Gen Z.


I want to buy a house one day, and hopefully, it's a nice one, totally off-grid with a view of the ocean, backing onto a national park (it might be a stretch, but it's a goal of mine). That said, that goal will not be cheap, and spending $25+ for flavoured air isn't really what I would call an 'investment piece.'


Generally, my generation considers vaping socially acceptable; it is a part of the social norm and almost an expectation at any social gathering like a concert or a house party.


It is vital to know that vapes or e-cigarettes were first introduced in 2003in the Chinese market and were initially advertised to aid smokers in quitting smoking cigarettes. The claim that 'vapes help smokers quit' is still the company's argument to justify its promotional strategies. The unfortunate reality is that these products are not aimed at people who are already smoking but at the youth.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2022, one in five 18–24 years old's and one in twelve 15-17 years olds had used a vaping or e-cigarette product at least once. The ABS recognises that these statistics are likely underreported as 77.3% of the 15-17responses were written by an adult in the same household. I 100% agree with ABS, reporting that it is likely underreported as we all know that teenagers can be sneaky, and this issue is more widespread than I think Australians want to admit.


The popularity of e-cigarettes has, without a doubt, increased over the past couple of years, making way for a new generation to become addicted to nicotine products. Vapes or e-cigarette products containing nicotine are illegal for anyone without a prescription, so technically, a tiny proportion of the population should have access to these products. But, as we know from the past, the government endeavours to completely eradicate the sale of substances, better known as the 'war on drugs,' only drive the industry underground, making it unregulated and dangerous. Of course, teenagers found a way around the legalities; the product is purposefully advertised to appeal to us with its bright colours, sleek packaging, and sweet flavours.


So, where are teenagers getting their fix?


The answer is blindingly apparent; it is social media. Social media is the new black market, especially for vapes. I would confidently say that vapes are the most prevalent and widely accepted illegal substance that young people my age buy and consume. I know a person that buys vapes from people on Snapchat. I also know that my Instagram and TikTok accounts are recommended to me and advertise these products to be sold in my area (regional NSW). These recommendations are made due to the complex algorithm the apps use. The algorithm is generally unknown, but it is widely accepted that it recommends accounts in your area and those with which your friends or other people interact.


The process is simple you find these accounts advertising vaping products, contact them by a direct message/snap (on Snapchat) and decide on the flavour and brand you want. You then arrange to meet up with the dealer, just like a drug deal (super sketchy). It's not hard to arrange these 'dealings.' Some of these accounts are anonymous, meaning you do not know the dealer's identity, or the dealer lacks common sense and reveals their identity. After all, itis an illegal product, and the digital proof of particular, especially for younger children involved in this industry, can jeopardise their future.


Buying these products from social media dealers means these products are unregulated and therefore dangerous. The legitimacy of these products is questionable, as most vapes are cheaply made, containing batteries prone to leaking and a cocktail of chemicals that have unknown health consequences. Young people may already know this, but as our brain is not fully developed do not understand the severity of the issue. After all, if we cannot physically see the damage it is causing, is it that harmful?


That being said, what can be done to educate and limit teenagers' desire to vape? Due to vaping being a cultural norm, it seems to me almost like a lost cause. Schools are already confiscating them at astronomical rates, which should continue, but further education on the risks associated that are already known, such as lung infections and EVALI (which stands for e-cigarette/vaping associate lung injury) experienced by younger and younger people.


The Government also needs to implement more proactive measures to combat the importation of illegal vape and e-cigarette products, as laws and initiatives are not working as they should. Another suggestion may be using cautionary tales such as "Bryan," the guy on cigarette packages, and plastering it all over the packaging rather than the bright colours used on the prescription vapes.


From a marketing point of view, I believe the companies would never want that to happen; it would undoubtedly decrease sales as it would seem less cool having pictures of mouth cancer decorating your vape compared with a pretty fuchsia that matches your clubbing outfit. It is just a theory of mine.


About the Author, Jade:


My name is Jade. I am 17 and from regional NSW. I am passionate about bringing awareness to the safety of social media users because it is ever so present in my own life and the people around me.


​I believe it is a hugely influential aspect of our lives as it shapes culture and social expectations and has significant impacts on our mental health. Ongoing education in regards to social media is necessary for the future.


 

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