All secondary school headteachers in Ceredigion have raised concerns about students using ‘dangerous’ vapes – while Gwynedd Council has outlined a strategy to tackle the ‘growing health problem’.

Ceredigion County Council confirmed to the Cambrian News the county’s seven secondary headteachers were vocal about the problem in the regular workshops and meetings they have with the authority.

Meanwhile, Gwynedd Council is taking steps against a ‘substantial increase’ in the use of vaping by children – particularly secondary school pupils.

The growing problem had been raised to councillors by the region’s teachers and was discussed at a full meeting of Gwynedd Council.

A report, based on data from ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) for March and April 2023, shows the proportion of children experimenting with vaping has grown across the UK by 50 per cent year on year, from one in thirteen to one in nine.

The data also suggests that as of this year, 20.5 per cent had tried vaping, compared to 16 per cent in 2022, 11 per cent in 2021 and 14 per cent in 2020.

What the study refers to as experimentation - trying once or twice - had also grown significantly by about a half, from 7.7 per cent in last year to 11.6 per cent in 2023.

Councils across the UK are beginning to treat vaping as a major public health issue, which is illustrated by the urgent representations made to Gwynedd and Ceredigion authorities by teachers – and the action taken by regional health boards.

The UK Labour Party said it was intending to table a motion in the House of Commons last Wednesday (14 July) calling for a ban on the marketing of vapes to children, with party officials considering tougher measures further down the line.

There has been a substantial increase in the use of vapes, particularly in secondary school pupils.

Cllr Elin Hywel

Gwynedd Cabinet member of education Cllr Beca Brown told a meeting of full council the authority was ‘taking this (vaping) very seriously’.

Pwllheli North councillor Elin Hywel, who raised the issue, asked in the chamber meeting in Caernarfon what steps would be taken to control the issue.

“A number of us here in this room are school governors, and the question arises after concerns received from teachers,” she said.

“There has been a substantial increase in the use of vapes, particularly in secondary school pupils.

“What steps will the council take to support our secondary schools to address this new and concerning challenge?”

Cllr Beca Brown said the issue ‘often arises’ and was an ‘increasing problem at our secondary schools’ regularly mentioned at head teacher meetings.

There were things schools could do, she said, such as reviewing processes and curriculum amendments, although ‘further support was needed’ from the education authority.

The council was also ‘awaiting confirmation’ for grant money for a piece of commissioned work to see what could be done, jointly with other services.

She added that vaping was a ‘new field’ and ‘research and data was few and far between’ but the council would be ‘proactive,’ follow the latest guidance or research emerging.

“Again, there are more steps needed on the education side of things, ” Cllr Brown added. She said a ‘proactive’ approach was needed.

School toilets had been identified as the ‘favourite vaping area’ for children and young people, she added.

“We have committed to do some work to look initially if there is anything we can do to look at the style and layout of toilets,” Cllr Brown added.

“The rubbish vaping creates, has to be collected by us as a council, you see these pieces of plastic everywhere, it is not environmentally friendly either.”

She concluded that it was the ‘responsibility for everyone’ to report illegal cases of selling vapes to children and young people under the age of 18 through Trading Standards and North Wales Police.

Children are routinely being sold cheap disposable vaping pens online or from shops that contain as much nicotine as up to 50 cigarettes,

Ceredigion County Council

A Ceredigion County Council spokesperson indicated it was committed to the Whole School approach in its efforts to tackle vaping.

This is an idea that appears to be most associated with mental health – and is informed by a coordinated and evidence-informed strategy across schools and colleges as well as other agencies.

It is said to lead to improved pupil and student wellbeing, which, in turn, can improve learning, the UK Department for Education said on its website.

The spokesperson added: “A representative from Hywel Dda Health Board has presented to secondary and through age headteachers on Vaping. Schools are currently considering the Whole School approach to vaping. The council is working with trading standards and Dyfed Powys Police.

“A whole-school approach involves all parts of the school working together and being committed.

“It needs partnership working between senior leaders, teachers and all school staff, as well as parents, carers and the wider community.

“All headteachers in secondary and through age schools have raised it as a problem both in workshops and headteachers’ meetings.

“A letter has been sent to pupils’ homes regarding the dangers of vaping. It contains information and a national point of contact for advice and assistance.”

The council sent a copy of the letter it distributed to parents which warns them about the dangers of their children vaping.

It says: “Dear parents, across the UK, including Ceredigion, young people have been experimenting with colourful e-cigarette pens. Often known as ‘vape pens’ these devices are highly addictive and affect children’s health. The law states that you need to be over 18 to purchase these devices.

“Children are routinely being sold cheap disposable vaping pens online or from shops that contain as much nicotine as up to 50 cigarettes, experts have said.

“A craze for brightly coloured, sweet-flavoured e-cigarettes is emerging in British schools, with TikTok and other social media sites filled with posts of young people smoking them. These are cheap disposable e-cigarettes that contain up to 300 doses of nicotine that comes in highly flavoured sweet products with fun or trendy names.

“It is their cheapness and disposability that have led to their popularity. Often seen as safe by young people, many are unaware and make no link to the addictive nature of nicotine and are unaware of the increased concerns linked to certain flavours.

“The difficulty for many young people is that they can become addicted to the nicotine quite quickly and then stopping can prove very difficult. If you or your child is concerned about vaping or smoking, then support can be provided.”

The dangers of vaping

  • Addiction: E-cigarettes contain nicotine, a drug that’s highly addictive. You don’t have to vape every day to get addicted.
  • Anxiety and depression: Nicotine makes anxiety and depression worse. It also affects memory, concentration, self-control, and attention, especially in developing brains.
  • Becoming a smoker: People who vape are more likely to start smoking regular tobacco cigarettes and may be more likely to develop other addictions in the future.
  • Impotence: There is some evidence that vaping can cause sexual dysfunction in men.
  • Sleep problems
  • Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Lung damage that can be life-threatening

Vapes were said to be the cause of 40 children being hospitalised in England last year. Doctors have warned vaping can cause lung bleeding and lung collapse in children.

The findings from freedom of information requests sent to 167 local authorities by VapeClub found that Illegal vape seizures in the first four months of this year were seven times higher than whole of 2021.

The UK and Welsh Government have outlined their positions when it comes to discouraging vape use among schoolchildren.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “It’s already illegal to sell vapes to children and we are exploring further ways to tackle youth vaping through our newly launched Call for Evidence, which will look at the appearance and characteristics of vapes, the marketing and promotion of vapes, and the role of social media.

“We also recently announced a new ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ – backed by £3 million – to remove illegal products from shelves and stop them from crossing our borders.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Reports indicating an increase in use of these products by young people are very concerning. As part of our strategy to deliver a smoke-free Wales by 2030, we are looking at what more we can do to prevent the use of e-cigarettes by children and young people and will publish that work later this year.

“E-cigarettes should never be used by children, young people and non-smokers. It is illegal to sell electronic cigarettes or e-liquids to someone under 18. It is also an offence for adults to buy, or try to buy, tobacco products or e-cigarettes for someone under the age of 18.”

An ASH report into vaping released last month said: “Children’s awareness of promotion of vapes has also grown, particularly in shops where more than half of all children report seeing e-cigarettes being promoted, and online where nearly a third report e-cigarette promotion.

“Only one in five children now say they never see vapes promoted, down from 31 per cent last year. It is an offence to sell e-cigarettes to children under 18 in the United Kingdom and children means those aged 11-17 years old, unless otherwise specified.

“In conclusion, youth vaping is continuing to grow, as is children’s awareness of promotion. The big increase in the use of disposable products has happened concurrently with higher levels of youth use, although the survey is cross sectional and so does not prove this is causal in either direction.”

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