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Vaping at School

Posted By: The Teach Now Team
Vaping at School

Not just a health hazard: ‘an enormous distraction’ for pupils.

The days of young people ‘smoking behind the bike sheds’ may be a dim and distant memory (for those of us who’ve been in the profession long enough to remember them at all) but a recent article in the Guardian calls them vividly to mind. As you might expect, it raises concerns about health – but of course it’s not about smoking tobacco; it’s about vaping, which, it explains, has become worryingly popular with secondary school pupils. Worse – and more alarmingly still – a growing number of primary schoolchildren are getting the habit. According to a conservative councillor in Blackpool, a staggering 75% of the town’s school students are vaping – which is a startling figure given that it’s illegal to sell vaping products to anyone under 18.

Habit? Or addiction?

The Guardian report comes at a time when a 2022 ASH-Y survey showed that the prevalence of smoking among 11-18-year-olds actually increased from 4.1% to 6% this year – although the fact that the figure for 2020 was 6.7% does suggest smoking is neither increasing nor decreasing. Vaping, on the other hand, is on the up: from 4.8% in 2020 and 4% in 2021 to a very worrying 8.6% this year. Of course, you could argue that it’s far better young people get the vaping habit than the smoking one – simply because it’s so much less harmful. The figure commonly bandied about is that it’s 95% safer than cigarettes. And, contrary to popular belief, that’s validated by Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians, both of whom arrived at that figure completely independently.

The trouble is, of course, that although vape contains no carbon monoxide or other poisons found in cigarettes, they haven’t been around long enough for anyone to say for sure what long-term damage they might be doing – and, of course, depending on the strength, it’s every bit as addictive, if not more so.

Disruption and distraction

“You can find yourself spending an awful lot of time dealing with inappropriate behaviour in the toilets when you should be in lessons watching the 95% of our students engaging enthusiastically in their learning.

It is, of course, perfectly reasonable to argue that in the interest of harm-reduction there’s no urgency to stop young people vaping. But that’s to ignore the other damaging aspects of the habit. Because it’s so addictive, teachers report an increasing number of pupils turning up late or missing lessons because they’ve nipped off for a vape. And it’s not just those who indulge whose education is disrupted – there are reports of children being afraid to use the lavatories because they’re full of illicit vapers. Worse still are reports of adults handing out free vape products outside the school gates in order to ‘groom’ their future customers! 

The Guardian quotes Newton Abbot college headteacher Amy Grashof:

You can find yourself spending an awful lot of time dealing with inappropriate behaviour in the toilets when you should be in lessons watching the 95% of our students engaging enthusiastically in their learning.

The new under-age drug of choice?

If the word ‘drug’ seems to be overegging things a little, it’s worth considering that nicotine is extremely addictive – and although vaping might seem relatively innocuous to an adult, it still has the ‘glamour’ of being forbidden to young people. So, like under-age drinking, tobacco smoking and illegal drugs it has a symbolic dimension: it’s about being ‘mature’, being rebellious, being cool… And it also has the advantage of being very affordable and easy to hide – so it’s easy to cock a snoop at authority and impress your schoolfriends by sneaking a puff in the corridor or even the classroom!

So what’s the answer?

As with all other narcotics, there’s no easy answer. Ironically, the very product that’s been so successful in reducing the prevalence of smoking has become a habit that’s every bit as ingrained and equally hard to break. Some schools are tackling the issue by taking a hard line on punishment. One, for example, imposes a two-day exclusion on any pupil caught vaping. Others base their response on protection and health promotion balanced against a firm explanation of why it’s banned in school and precisely what the consequences will be for those who get caught. It remains to be seen whether the upward trend will continue – and in the meantime all we can do is our very best to protect our pupils from the businesses and unscrupulous individuals keen to groom them, get them addicted and exploit their addiction into adulthood.

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