Vaping problem in schools at 'almost epidemic proportions'

STACY SQUIRES
Joe Eccleton, principal at Christchurch's Cashmere High School - Te iringa o Kahukura, says vaping in schools is a community problem and needs the support of the parents to help stop it.

A vaping problem of “almost epidemic proportions” has arrived in Christchurch after first hitting Auckland schools two years ago.

Principals are alarmed at the growing number of students who vape, with one saying children as young as 13 are using the cigarette substitutes.

Teachers are confiscating more vaping devices, which can be as small as a USB pen drive and are hard to detect.

“There's a growing concern among principals,” said Phil Holstein, who is Burnside High School principal and president of Canterbury West Coast Secondary Principals' Association.

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“It really hit Auckland two years ago. Auckland principals told me it was almost epidemic proportions.

“In Christchurch, at that time, it wasn't a similar pattern – until the start of this year. It happened uniformly across our city.”

In February, at least three students were excluded or expelled from Springbank School – private school in Kerikeri in Northland – for vaping at school camp.

There are concerns vaping is being targeted at young people. (File photo)
There are concerns vaping is being targeted at young people. (File photo)

It is an offence to sell vaping products to under 18s and the Government advice to young people is not to start vaping if they don't already smoke.

Holstein said vaping was now a bigger problem than smoking.

“In our school certainly,” he said.

“It's harder to detect, but in our school it's treated exactly the same way as cigarettes.”

Canterbury principals will discuss the matter to see how it can be addressed, he said.

Joe Eccleton, principal of Cashmere High School, said although difficult to quantify, there had been an “exponential rise” in students vaping in school.

“My main concern is, we just don't understand the long-term effects of vaping – the research just isn't out there. What we do know is that a lot of these vapes have more nicotine than cigarettes.”

Cashmere High School principal Joe Eccleton has written to parents to raise the issue of vaping.
STACY SQUIRES/Stuff
Cashmere High School principal Joe Eccleton has written to parents to raise the issue of vaping.

He is concerned vaping is being targeted towards young people.

“They are cheap, they are infused with fruity flavours and there is a perception out there that they are actually healthier than cigarettes ... and I think that's really dangerous.”

Ann Brokenshire, principal of Hillmorton High School, said students were under the impression it was safer than cigarettes.

“It is not easy to solve, but we have in place consequences based on educating our students, who also see our school nurse as part of the consequence,” she said.

Some of the vaping devices confiscated by staff at Cashmere High School.
Supplied
Some of the vaping devices confiscated by staff at Cashmere High School.

Linwood College principal Richard Edmundson said his school also experienced issues with students vaping.

“When vaping was first introduced, there was mixed messaging from the Government,” he said.

“They said, ‘don't smoke, but if you are smoking, vaping is better than tobacco’. That is quite a nuanced message to a teenage brain, that likes risk-taking behaviour.

“I can imagine some families tolerating vaping because it's not as bad as smoking, but it's still bad.”

Dr Melanie Natascha Tomintz, of University of Canterbury's Geospatial Research Institute, has explored health issues with vaping and e-cigarette use.

The literature said it was dangerous for young people because it often contained nicotine and toxic chemicals, which users also inhaled, she said.

“Nicotine is an addictive substance and that is an issue for brain development,” she said.

“Just because it’s less harmful than smoking, doesn't mean it’s not harmful at all.”

The new smaller design of vaping devices meant parents or teachers might not know a young person vaped, she said.

“Traditional vaping pens looked like cigarettes, now they look like little USB sticks. Some of them don't even make any smoke, you wouldn't even see that somebody was vaping.

“Another reason why it's attractive for young people is they make games of it, by making vape clouds.”

Information about vaping can be found at www.vapingfacts.health.nz