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Concern at pupils selling vapes at school

July 30, 2022

Illegal vapes seized in Stockton (Photo: Stockton Council)

By Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter

Fears about Teesside youngsters taking up vaping have been sounded – with health chiefs hearing how pupils have been caught selling them to school peers.

Selling e-cigarettes or vapes to under 18s is illegal in the UK. But concerns have been raised in the past about Stockton youngsters vaping outside school gates.

Stockton’s health and wellbeing board heard how health officials were working with schools on vapes at the moment. Public health official Mandy Mackinnon said: “We’ve also learned some of our young people have been entrepreneurs and are actually selling vapes in schools, so we’re working with schools on that front.

“We’re also working with trading standards on Geek Bars. This is a slang term for vapes that have a higher dosage of nicotine, and aren’t regulated in the same way as others.”

Stockton’s smoking cessation service has a “stop and swap” service – to provide a refillable e-cigarette kit to people trying to quit with sufficient liquid to last 12 weeks. Ms Mackinnon also gave a brief overview of the national Khan Review on efforts to reduce smoking across England.

They included increasing the age of sale for tobacco and “promoting vaping”. But Cllr Ann McCoy felt there had been “unfortunate consequences” of promoting vapes.

She added: “We know from many reports some young people are vaping who may not have even taken up smoking. We saw the release from trading standards about how many illegal vapes have actually been seized just in Stockton.”

The cabinet member thought it was “dangerous” to promote vaping – and wanted it stressed it was a tool to prevent smoking. Cllr McCoy added: “I think as we go on there is going to be more and more evidence of the effect it’s having on younger people.”

Stockton trading standards teams have reported seizing more than 3,000 illegal and potential dangerous vapes in the past year. Officials said many of the illicit e-cigarettes appeared to target children by featuring various cartoon characters and flavours such as bubblegum, icy cola, and double apple.

Past meetings have also heard concerns about vape use outside school gates. Yarm councillor Julia Whitehill feared their use was “absolutely rife” at February’s Stockton Home Safety Association.

She said: “As soon as they walk out of the back gate, they’re producing them.” Council leader Cllr Bob Cook smoked for 20 years before giving up in 1996.

He believed putting anything other than oxygen and air into lungs was dangerous. Meanwhile, Cllr Steve Nelson said tobacco companies were always looking for their next generation of customers.

The cabinet member for health, leisure and culture added: “You look at the way some of these vapes are being marketed – and the names of them – and they’re being marketed in the names of sweets. They’re literally being targeted at children.”

Health bosses stressed the recommendations in the Khan report hadn’t been agreed by the government yet – and the point on “promoting vaping” was about using them as a tool to wean people off smoking. Public health chief Sarah Bowman-Abouna said: “To be clear, we’re promoting vaping as a quit-aid for smoking.

“We absolutely wouldn’t promote vaping to anybody who didn’t already smoke – certainly not to children.” Cllr Lisa Evans, cabinet member for children and young people, told the panel she’d seen a group of very young children vaping on a visit to Yorkshire.

She added: “They had these huge vapes with smoke billowing out – I would say they were 12 or 13 with a group doing it together. I think the way to target it is via the health schools programme – we know through that medium we can influence schools to take up incentives to do more.”

Former smoker Cllr Clare Gamble believed there was merit in vapes as a tool to kick a cigarette habit. The Catalyst representative added: “I quit smoking after 15 years using a vape as a quit aid so I think the “stop and swap” is a really good incentive if you look at the price of vapes.”

(Via Local Democracy Reporting Service)