A research trial of a program, developed and delivered by the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre, has so far proved hugely popular and has been taken up by 250 high schools across the nation.

Co-designed by educators and students, and targeting Year 7 and 8 students, the OurFutures Vaping prevention program is the first rigorously developed online vaping program.

The response to the program so far has been positive, with 85 per cent of students and 89 per cent of teachers rating the program very highly. More importantly, 81 per cent of students felt what they learned would help them in the future.

Building on years of successful Matilda Centre drug and alcohol prevention research, and supported by the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund, the program aims to work with young people to empower them to protect their health and wellbeing.

The program was showcased at an event attended by Federal Health Minister Mark Butler and Federal Education Minister Jason Clare.

“Vapes were sold to governments and communities around the world as a therapeutic good: a product that could help hardened smokers – usually people in their 40s or 50s – to quit smoking and kick the habit,” Butler said today.

“If vapes are therapeutic goods, then it is entirely appropriate that Australia should regulate them as therapeutic goods, instead of allowing them to be sold alongside candy bars in convenience stores, often down the road from schools.”

The Health Minister said Parliament now has a once-in-a-generation opportunity and responsibility to act to safeguard the health of young Australians for generations to come.

“The best time to have done this was five years ago, the second-best time is now,” he said.

“We urge all Parliamentarians to stand with parents, teachers, schools, doctors and public health experts who are calling for urgent action to stop Big Tobacco from cynically preying on young Australians.”

“… resources like the OurFutures vaping program are important – [because they’re] equipping teachers with the tools they need to help to educate young people about the dangers of vaping,” Education Minister Jason Clare says.

Director of the Matilda Centre, Professor Maree Teesson, and Associate Professor Emily Stockings, said interest in the program is growing, with a 2024 early access scheme for 250 schools already fully subscribed, illustrating the growing concern of Australian schools and teachers about vaping and their willingness to tackle the public health menace.

Both recently gave evidence at a parliamentary inquiry into e-cigarette regulation and compliance in New South Wales.

Stockings said we are seeing young people addicted to nicotine at rates we’ve not seen for decades.

“Preventing nicotine dependence before it develops is the best approach, because it impacts brain development and is incredibly difficult to quit,” she said.

“Programs like OurFutures are not only backed by rigorously tested evidence, but are developed in partnership with young people, parents, teachers, and educators, and give young people a say in their own health decisions.”

The OurFutures program is also co-led by Professor Nicola Newtown and Dr Lauren Gardner.

Newton said her team’s research has shown that engaging Australia’s youth by co-designing reliable, evidence-based resources that they trust breaks through misinformation and gives our youth the tools for a healthier future.

“It is encouraging that Governments on all levels are serious about combatting vaping harms in young people and we look forward to furthering research into school-based and social-media based interventions in two new MRFF and NHMRC-funded trials,” she said.

Data shows one-in-six high school students have vaped recently and that vapes have become the number one behavioural issue in many schools. Studies have shown that 9 out of 10 vape shops are within walking distance of schools.

Based on the best available evidence and aligned with the HPE curriculum, the OurFutures vaping program aims to empower young people to say no to e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes, and improve their health and wellbeing.

The Federal Government has responded with legislation to protect children, young people and all Australians from the harms of vaping currently before the parliament.

The legislation regulates vaping as a therapeutic good, by banning the importation, manufacture, supply, and commercial possession of disposable single use and non-therapeutic vapes.

The Government is also providing more help for people to quit smoking and vaping through the development and expansion of national quit support initiatives, increasing awareness and education via new public health campaigns like the youth anti-vaping campaign involving TikTok comedians Jaxon and Lachlan Fairbairn, cricketer Ellyse Perry, gamer JackBuzza, actress Ella Watkins, surfers Zahlia and Shyla Short and others, and developing clinical guidelines from primary health clinicians.

Should the legislation pass later this year, anyone who is in genuine need will be able to purchase a regulated vape from a pharmacist, with a prescription.

Health Minister Clare said vaping is a major issue in our schools.

“Principals and teachers will tell you that vapes are causing massive behaviour problems in the classroom,” he said.

“Nine out of 10 vapes stores are within walking distance of our schools. This is an industry that is clearly targeting our kids. That’s why banning the sale of these things from corner stores is so important.

“It’s also why resources like the OurFutures vaping program are important – equipping teachers with the tools they need to help to educate young people about the dangers of vaping.”

For free confidential support call the Quitline on 13 78 48. You can also head to Quit Now for the latest resources.