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‘Vaping is not OK’: Principals want to smoke out e-cigarette use by teenagers

Andrew Taylor
September 15, 2019

The Age

More teenagers are using e-cigarettes as concerns mount about the health risks of vaping.

School principals and health experts have expressed alarm about the increasing use of e-cigarettes by teenagers, as concerns mount about the health impacts of vaping.

Head of high school at Moriah College Jan Hart said the use of e-cigarettes by school-aged children was becoming a major problem in many countries.

“Our staff members continue to hear disturbing reports of e-cigarette use by young people across the eastern suburbs including students as young as those in Year 8,” she said.

Ms Hart sounded the alarm about youth vaping in a blog post, highlighting the health impacts of using e-cigarettes – battery-operated devices that heat a liquid to produce a vapour that users inhale.

“Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm brain development, with adolescents being particularly susceptible,” she said.

The 2017 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug Survey found about 13 per cent of high school students had used an e-cigarette at least once, while 32 per cent of these students had used one in the past month.

Electronic cigarettes that do not contain nicotine are legal for use by adults in NSW, but e-liquid nicotine is prohibited.

Director of Quit Victoria Sarah White said the number of students who had experimented with e-cigarettes was stable, but more teenagers were vaping regularly.

She said e-cigarettes threatened to undermine public health measures to reduce smoking.

“E-cigarettes could be perceived as a cool new gadget and safer than smoking,” she said. “When in reality they’re just another thing that companies are marketing to make profits from people addicted to their products.”

Ms Hart said Moriah College had been contacted by parents worried about youth vaping, but many parents and students did not understand the full extent of the dangers of e-cigarettes.

“We want to create a positive counter-culture, giving vaping such a negative connotation that our students feel empowered to stand up and say that vaping is not OK and not acceptable,” she said.

The warning comes amid an outbreak of lung disease linked to vaping and moves by the United States government to ban the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes in response to their popularity among young Americans.

Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council noted in 2017 that experts disagreed about the safety of e-cigarettes and whether they can minimise harm to smokers or help them quit smoking.

A NSW Health spokeswoman said there was evidence linking e-cigarettes use to cigarette smoking by adolescents.

“There are concerns about the potential uptake of vaping by young people and whether they are a gateway to smoking,” she said.

Nerrida Johnson, the principal of Cape Byron Steiner School, said e-cigarettes were easy to obtain and easy to conceal.

“It is also an attractive alternative for teenagers and there is often no detectable odour from e-cigarettes and so it is easier to keep usage hidden from parents and school staff,” she said.

Ms Johnson also expressed scepticism about how e-cigarettes were marketed: “It is hard to imagine why companies would promote e-cigarettes without nicotine for any reason other than to create a pathway to other smoking activities.”

Headmaster of Cranbrook School Nicholas Sampson said the school had an “unambiguous ban” on the possession and use of tobacco and e-cigarette products.

An Education Department spokesman declined to answer questions but said in a statement that disciplinary action taken against students using e-cigarettes should be consistent with the treatment of students who bring tobacco to school.

Simon Chapman, emeritus professor in public health at the University of Sydney, expressed concern about the regulatory oversight of e-cigarettes: “Those being sold are not allowed by law here to contain nicotine, but many do.”

He also questioned the effectiveness of laws banning the sale of e-cigarettes to children. “It is also illegal to sell cigarettes to children, but it as always been possible for children to obtain them easily,” he said

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