Teachers are catching primary school-aged children with vapes, as a headteacher warns punishment alone is not enough to tackle the “explosion” of vaping among underaged users.
It is illegal for under-18s to use or buy electronic cigarettes. Yet researchers have found that one in five secondary school pupils in Wales have tried vaping, and one in 20 are vaping regularly.
Easier to buy than cigarettes
Richard Owen, headteacher at Idris Davies School in Rhymney, told Caerphilly councillors the popularity of vaping has “grown considerably” in schools “over the last few years”. He said that vapes are “much easier” for pupils to buy than cigarettes.
His comments came in the same week that politicians announced plans to make it harder for young people in the UK to access nicotine products. Proposals include banning tobacco sales to people born in or after 2009, and restricting flavours and packaging for vapes.
Owen told Caerphilly Council’s education scrutiny committee it was “concerning” that the design of vapes seems “to be targeted towards young children”, and has flavours such as candy floss, raspberry, and cola. He said there has been a “substantial increase” in the number of children vaping during breaks.
Disruption of learning and behaviour
More recently, vaping has crept into times when pupils should be in lessons. The school has been forced to install ‘vape alarms’ in bathrooms, with some pupils reportedly taking up to 15 ‘toilet breaks’ a day to vape.
This is disruptive to learning, as well as causing an increase in antisocial behaviour in the bathrooms, Owen told councillors. He added that, while vape use is more common among older pupils, it is “now starting to creep down into Key Stage 2” (ages 7–11).
Simply punishing those caught with vapes is unlikely to change their behaviour, he said, explaining that his school seeks to educate pupils who are often misinformed about the risks of vaping.
Electronic cigarettes first became popular among smokers looking to quit. Current NHS advice notes that vaping is “substantially less harmful” than smoking cigarettes and is “one of the most effective tools for quitting smoking”.
Owen said there is “a lot of misunderstanding” about this messaging among young people, who perceive vaping as “positive”. The products still contain highly addictive nicotine. Councillor Julian Simmonds noted that the growing popularity of low-standard knock-offs means there may also be other harmful ingredients lurking inside vaping products.
The dangers of vaping
Health service guidance also notes that vaping is not “completely harmless”, saying “we only recommend it for adult smokers, to support quitting smoking and staying quit”. Owen said that, as well as increased supervision at his school, “what’s really important is highlighting the dangers of vaping to children” and to the parents of those pupils caught vaping. “What we want to try and do is stop it from happening again.”
Public Health Wales has produced guidance on Vaping for Secondary-aged learners in Wales. The Welsh Government plans to ban disposable vapes “due to their significant environmental impacts” and underage use of them. According to deputy minister for wellbeing Lynne Neagle: “While vapes can be useful to some smokers in supporting smoking cessation, data shows the number of children using vapes has tripled in the past three years. Due to their nicotine content and the unknown long-term harms, vaping carries a risk of harm and addiction for children.”
“The use of single-use vapes has also grown in recent years to the point that almost five million are either littered or thrown away each week. Not only is this extremely wasteful because of their hard-to-recycle components … when littered they can release toxic chemicals into the environment.”
CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT THE BYLINES NETWORK CROWDFUNDER!