I am glad to see this motion in front of the House. It is one I am happy to support. One would have had to have been living under a rock for the past few years not to have seen the rise in e-cigarettes. There is a ridiculous number of them on the streets. My main concern, and one I think is shared by many, is when it comes to children. We can advertise the health risks of nicotine use to adults, and we should do so, in order that people can make informed decisions. When it comes to children, however, it really is a different story. Habitual nicotine use has been seen to harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the mid-20s. Therefore, holding off until one is 18 years old is good but often not good enough.
The strength of many of these e-cigarettes is shocking. I know that with the biggest brand of the disposable ones in the US, JUUL, one of them has as much nicotine as a full 20-pack of smokes and some kids would go through one or more of those per day. They all look very sleek and trendy but when there is a 15- or 16-year-old essentially smoking 20 per day, something is going seriously wrong. We might be told that not all vapes have nicotine in them and some are just flavour. While this is technically true, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 99% of the e-cigarettes sold in the USA contain nicotine. Therefore, the odds are very much that any given vape is a nicotine vape. Using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control. Each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections or synapses are built between brain cells. Young people's brains build synapses faster than adult brains but nicotine changes the way these synapses are formed.
Internationally, many young people turn to vaping to deal with stresses or anxiety. This can create a cycle of nicotine dependence. Nicotine addiction can be a source of stress - what may start as social experimentation can become an addiction. One study, again in the US, where they have looked into this stuff more than we have, found that the most common reason given by students for initially trying an e-cigarette is that a friend was using them. The most common reason given for continued use was feeling anxious, stressed or depressed. This is textbook substance abuse and has become increasingly normalised over the past three years. We have young people turning to addictive substances as a distraction or escape from emotions that they have not been able to equip themselves to deal with. That breaks my heart. The manufacturers and marketeers of these products know exactly what they are doing when they give these high-strength nicotine vapes the flavours of sweets, fruits, desserts and fizzy drinks. Kids are using these to try out the flavours and that is something we do not get with ordinary cigarettes. E-cigarettes are advertised using the same themes and tactics that have been shown to increase youth initiation of other tobacco products in other countries, and indeed in this country prior to legislative bans which prohibited such.
I support the provisions of this motion. I hope the Government will take all of this on board because this is something that needs to be nipped in the bud. We do not want a whole generation of young Irish people to be hooked on these things when they did not have the defences against them that they would have had as adults.