Mental Health Services and Centre for Population Health unite to drive change on World No Tobacco Day

To acknowledge World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, the Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) Centre for Population Health and Mental Health Services hosted a pop-up event at Cumberland Hospital to raise awareness about the harms of smoking and e-cigarettes (vaping).

The event for mental health consumers and staff provided information about supports available for those looking to quit smoking or vaping, in addition to offering resources to help manage cravings or change habits.

Attending consumers and staff were encouraged to share their thoughts and experiences, and to pick up giveaway bags including Quitline branded coffee cups, hand sanitisers and sunscreen as well as smoking and vaping education resources.

WSLHD Director of Centre for Population Health Dr Shopna Bag highlighted the importance of this event as people diagnosed with mental illness are twice as likely to be current smokers compared to the general population.

“Smoking and vaping can lead to addiction and cravings caused by a chemical called nicotine,” Shopna said.

“This is because the temporary feelings of relaxation after smoking or vaping is short-lived and can leave someone feeling even more irritable and stressed when it quickly fades.”

Recent surveys conducted across WSLHD Mental Health Services found that 60 per cent of mental health consumers currently smoke and/or vape.

This is in stark contrast to the average smoking rate of 11 per cent among the general population in western Sydney.

Dr Malvika Ravi, Staff Specialist working with WSLHD Mental Health Services emphasised the importance of improving tailored support for individuals who are currently smoking or vaping.

We know that there are many people who want to stop smoking and vaping. We are working to increase support through staff training and by providing consumers with the knowledge, tools and resources to ask for help.

Dr Malvika Ravi

In response to the rising use of vapes across western Sydney, the event also aimed to increase awareness of the harms associated with vaping and new federal laws for e-cigarette sales.

From 1 March 2024, the importation of all vapes (even if they do not contain nicotine) has been banned in Australia.

They can only be legally purchased for therapeutic use through a prescription from a doctor and supplied by a pharmacy.

Vapes purchased illegally from retailers are known to contain many toxic chemicals that can cause lung damage, respiratory issues, seizures, and burns.

A recent study found 98.8 per cent of illegal vapes tested contained high levels of nicotine, which is addictive.

Carolyn Khan, a Mental Health consumer representative, was shocked to learn that chemicals used in cleaning products and nail polish remover could be found in illegal vapes purchased from retailers.

It’s so important that these messages are shared with Mental Health consumers and staff because consumers who might still be buying retailer vapes need to know the dangers of using them

Carolyn Khan

“Even for people who want to use vapes therapeutically to quit smoking, they need to understand how to access them properly and receive the best care from a health professional,” Carolyn said.

To learn more about the harms of vaping, visit Every Vape is a Hit to your Health or the NSW Health Vaping Resource Hub.

For support to quit or cut down on smoking or vaping, contact NSW Quitline (13 7848) or visit the iCanQuit website and take a step towards your quit journey today.

For more information on WSLHD’s E-cigarette Action Plan 2023-25, please contact Sarah Ip, Smoking & Vaping Prevention Coordinator, Centre for Population Health at Sarah.Ip@health.nsw.gov.au

The Centre for Population Health would like to acknowledge and express thanks to Cancer Institute NSW for their support with the World No Tobacco Day event.