Senior Head's Blog: 'Disposable' Vapes

This week, the Government has announced its intention to ban single use Vapes as soon as possible. There has been an increasing level of concern over the use of these 'disposable' vapes, with the bright colours and sweet flavours seemingly being targeted at children, despite a legal requirement to be 18 to purchase e-cigarettes. With concern growing in schools about the widespread nature of vaping, as well as understandable worries about the environmental impact of hundreds of thousands of these vapes being discarded on a daily basis (700,000 each day according to Everyone Health), the upcoming legislation could not come quickly enough for some! This week, a school in Norwich has announced that it will be bringing in specially trained sniffer dogs to try to detect vaping (BBC article) as the problem they are facing is proving so hard to solve.

So what has changed? It does not seem that long ago that we were being told about the health benefits of e-cigarettes, as their use saw many former smokers transferring to a seemingly less harmful habit. A public health report of 2015 debated whether GPs should actively recommend use of e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking. However, a decade ago, use of e-cigarettes was still relatively unusual among young people. The last ten years have seen uptake increase rapidly, as the marketing teams have sold us a safe and fun product. As adults, we have heard the message that e-cigarettes (compared to cigarettes) are relatively safe and relatively healthy.

There are a number of problems with this. One is that we don't know the long term health impacts of e-cigarettes. Some of these vapes contain extremely high levels of nicotine, which is the addictive part of a cigarette, so once you start, it can be very hard to stop.  While we might not be taking cigarette smoke into our lungs, when using a vape, the chemical mix of some of the liquids is still pretty alarming (see this report from an Australian study) and even if this is less harmful than smoking, the potential long term damage is still pretty concerning. I cannot say that vaping will be viewed in the future in the same way that we now view smoking, but it is not impossible. Also, unlike with cigarettes, the content of a vape can include THC (and can easily be delivered discreetly to your door, via the internet), the active ingredient of cannabis. 

We talked about the issue of vaping at the recent Felsted Parents Group meeting, and feel that we need a three pronged approach to make a positive impact here at Felsted. First, we need to make sure that young people are aware of the risks, but we also have to accept that this does not solve the problem among an age group that is hard wired to take risks and think short term. Second, we need to have preventative steps in place (including a combination of sanction and education) within the school for those who are breaking our rules on vaping. Third, we need them to be having these conversations at home, so that vaping does not become normalised in the way that smoking perhaps once did. Even if vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking, inhaling any chemicals into your lungs is much less healthy than not doing so, so the only really healthy option is not to vape.

Have a good, smoke free, vape free weekend.