Major crackdown on youth vaping in schools looms

Major crackdown on youth vaping in schools looms

A sweeping crackdown on vaping in schools looms after Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said the issue is causing distractions in the classroom and behavioural issues among students.

Speaking at the University of Canberra along with Minister for Early Childhood Education and Youth, Dr Anne Aly, Minister Clare called vaping a “massive issue” in Australian schools.

“Ask any parent of a child at high school and they'll tell you they're worried about it. Ask any teacher and they'll tell you that this is a massive issue in their schools that they need to tackle,” Minister Clare said.

“The companies making these vapes are plainly targeting our kids. You can see it with the shiny packaging, you can see it with the sweet flavours, you can see it in the fact that these things are disguised to look like USBs and highlighters that they can hide in their pencil cases and in their school bags.”

Minister Clare said barely any children were using vapes a decade ago, but now one in six young people are reported to have tried them.

“If you've used them, you're three times more likely to end up smoking. These things have become a gateway drug for nicotine and for cigarettes,” he said, adding that “teachers are basically being turned into de facto police”.

“Teachers are being forced to do search and seizure of school bags to find these things out.”

‘One of the biggest behaviour management issues’

Minister Clare said principals consider the youth vaping epidemic to be just as serious as distraction as mobile phones in the classroom.

“If you ask principals, what they will tell you is that this, along with mobile phones, is one of the biggest behaviour management issues in their schools,” Minister Clare said.

“This is because you've got children that are either being affected by the nicotine and coming off it, or you've got children that are trying to duck out of class to have a vape, or it's distracting them and other kids in the classroom or causing behaviour issues.”

Minister Clare said he supports measures such as banning the shiny packaging that many vapes tend to come in.

“You've got to get rid of all of these vapes that are disguised as something else, and we’ve got to make it harder to get access to these things. Get rid of them from the corner store, get rid of them from the petrol stations as well,” he said.

“In the coming weeks, the Health Minister and I will have more to say about the work that we'll do with State and Territory Governments in our schools to make sure that we're taking the action we need to get these things out of our schools.”

What schools can do in the meantime

Three experts from Griffith University recommend challenging the idea that “everyone is doing it” by providing accurate information about the prevalence of vaping among teenagers.

Murooj Yousef, a PhD Candidate, James Durl, a Research Fellow, and Timo Dietrich, Associate Professor Department of Marketing; Engagement Director Social Marketing, say empowering students to refuse to vape by providing them with alternative responses can be another effective way to reduce peer pressure.

“Educating students about the impact of vaping on their health is crucial for enabling informed choices about their wellbeing,” they wrote in an article published in The Conversation.

“Rather than relying on lectures, teachers should consider using interactive tools, such as games, quizzes, and videos, to engage students in the learning process. Free resources, including games and an online vaping module, have been developed by researchers to assist in this effort.”

Yousef, Durl and Dietrich said research shows vaping can cause lung injury, cardiovascular disease, respiratory infections, other serious, negative effects including on brain development and the immune system.

“Not only can vaping lead to long-term addiction, but it is also associated with other health risks such as seizures, acute nicotine toxicity and burns.”

The experts said as vaping continues to threaten the health of Australian teenagers, schools must take action to address this growing issue.

“By equipping students with the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions, schools can play a crucial role in fostering healthier environments for the next generation.”