Concerns have been raised by schools in Devon about a rise in the use of vapes, or e-cigarettes, among pupils at school.
Feedback from schools to the South Devon and Dartmoor Community Safety Partnership suggest that some children, a few as young as seven, are using vapes regularly.
Some schools also saw a particular increase in vaping by pupils at school after Christmas.
One pupil, a school reported, was caught buying vapes in bulk and selling them to their peers for profit.
And as vapes, also referred to as ‘puff sticks’, are sometimes disguised as other things such as USB sticks and highlighter pens, teachers are finding their use at school difficult to address, and not as easy to monitor as smoking.
Research in Devon last year found that younger pupils are less likely to have tried e-cigarettes than older pupils. But that 2 per cent of Year 6 pupils; ten per cent of Year 8 pupils; and 30 per cent – nearly one in three – Year 10 pupils have tried e-cigarettes.
Amy Grashoff, Headteacher at Newton Abbot College, said
“Worryingly, we have seen a significant increase in the number of students who are vaping, some of whom are as young as 11.
“We are educating our students on the dangers of vaping, and sanctioning those who are caught vaping on college site, however, the ease of buying them is not helping the issue, nor is the pretty way in which they are packaged.
“The government’s promotion of vapes as an alternative to smoking is understandable to an adult audience, however, the positive marketing around this misleads young people.”
Public Health Devon’s Director, Steve Brown has written to all Devon schools.
In his letter, he says:
“The identification of vapes can be difficult for staff as they are designed to look like pens, cosmetics or perfumes.”
He makes the distinction between the use of vaping as an effective stop smoking aid for adults over 18 years old, and recreational vaping among people school-aged.
“Both tobacco and many vapes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive,” he says. “We should be discouraging anyone under 18 from taking up a nicotine or addictive substance habit.”
And he warns that vaping products ‘frequently fail to comply with UK regulation and can be of higher nicotine concentration than is permitted.’
Steve Brown said:
“I know that schools in Devon are doing a lot to keep on top of this trend, talking to pupils individually and in assemblies and classrooms about the risks associated with smoking and vaping.
“Many also already do this, but we’re asking schools to work with parents and carers to share information about their school policies and procedures on e-cigarettes and why they have them.
“And we’re encouraging parents and carers to talk to their children, and to help raise their awareness about the health risks associated with smoking and vaping, and the dangers of buying vapes when so many fail to comply with UK regulations.”
Smoking remains the single biggest cause of ill health and premature death in the UK.