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Vaping has become one of the most popular forms of substance use among young people, despite growing evidence of its health risks and harms. The health effects of vaping are not fully understood and while vaping might be healthier than cigarette smoking, it is much less healthy than not vaping at all. Vaping companies are targeting teenagers and their message that vaping is safe is disingenuous and very concerning.

The most common immediate health effects of vaping include coughing, dry mouth and throat, shortness of breath, mouth and throat irritation and headaches. More long-term health effects could include addiction to nicotine; loss of ability to focus and lung damage or cancer caused by inhaling the carcinogenic flavouring compounds.

Two pieces of particularly concerning news have come out of America in recent months. The first was a higher percentage of young people who were significantly affected by Covid-19 than was seen in many other countries, likely because of the harm vaping had done to their lungs prior to infection.  The second was the first increase in youth cigarette smoking rates in decades, this reversal in decades of youth behaviour was linked to rapidly increasing rates of vaping. Both of these occurrences should sound a warning for all of us who are parents or work with young people.

Rutherford College’s health and safety policy states that students are not permitted to bring, consume or distribute cigarettes or vapes to school or to any school function. In November 2020, changes took effect under the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act that saw the existing prohibition on smoking at schools extended to include vaping.  Consequently, any person, whether student, staff or visitor who is vaping at school are breaking both school rules and New Zealand law.

While we would prefer to take a harm reduction approach to those students caught vaping, informing and educating them of the potential risk, we also need to consider the student body as a whole. For most students vaping is not a consequence of addiction but a choice and as such, there will be punitive consequences through our school discipline processes. Unlike many schools, we are not instigating mandatory stand-downs for vaping however this is an option, particularly for repeated offences.

Finally, given the increasing prevalence of vaping in society in general and the very confusing and often disingenuous messaging that is accompanying it, we encourage all parents to be having conversations with their children about vaping and the risks associated with it. The websites and ‘Don’t Get Sucked In’ provide information and are a good starting point for discussions with your children about the impact of vaping.

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