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Nurses ‘crucial’ in educating public on vaping risk

Nurses will play a critical role in educating the public on the risks of e-cigarette use as the Australian government moves to crack down on recreational vaping.

During last week's budget, health minister Mark Butler said the department will allocate $737m to tackle rising use of e-cigarettes and tobacco, including banning the import of all vaping products sold without a prescription.

Lung Foundation Australia, the nation's peak body supporting people living with lung disease, said nurses will be "instrumental" to support the changes.

"Nurses are a source of help and advice," senior lung cancer support nurse Nicole Parkinson said.

"The new changes to vaping laws will be an incredibly effective tool in stopping the wave of vaping in young people.

"This will ultimately prevent untold cases of lung damage and future respiratory symptoms, thus reducing future pressures on the healthcare system."

Despite being illegal to use, sell or buy without a prescription containing nicotine, Australia has seen high rates of e-cigarette use with two in five people using over the past year. 

Nearly 25 per cent of those considered themselves non-smokers at the time.

Ms Parkinson, who has worked as an oncology nurse for nearly five years, leads a multidisciplinary team offering counselling, education, and support to people with lung disease.

Her team assesses patient's smoking status and respiratory symptoms and provides them with self-management tools to quit smoking.

Tobacco use is one of Australia's largest preventable causes of death and disease, accounting for the deaths of over 20,500 people each year.

Young people using e-cigarettes are three times more likely to take up smoking.

The health minister has said that 'through stronger legislation, enforcement and education' Australia's daily smoking rate, which sits at 11 per cent, will be brought down to 5 per cent by 2030.

Cancer expert Professor Bernard Stewart said the rise of e-cigarette use has led to a sharp increase in patient care in paediatric and adolescent respiratory health settings.

"We have an obligation to explain to the community that there's a great likelihood of long-term harm, including some burden of cancer," Professor Stewart said.

"Although we can't define that with certainty yet, to remain silent would amount to criminal negligence.

"We don't have decades of data, and I don't yearn to have this."

A recent study found that all e-liquids contained one or more potentially harmful chemicals and an estimated 62 per cent of e-liquids were toxic if ingested repeatedly. 

There is still not enough data currently available to determine the risk of cancer and disease.

One major issue associated with e-cigarette use is the the behavioural impact people experience when transitioning back to regular smoking, according to Professor Stewart.

"If e-cigarettes result in more people smoking or individuals being likely to smoke, their role in causing cancer cannot be denied," he said.

Professor Nick Zwar, Chair of the National Asthma Council Australia Guidelines Committee, said he expected increased pressure on GPs from people seeking help with nicotine addiction related to vaping.

"The changes are unlikely to reduce pressure on nurses treating people with airway diseases in the short term but in the long term may assist if more people stop smoking," he said.

"If vaping is effective in helping a smoker to quit, this will help decrease the incidence of smoking-related diseases."

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