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Schools desperately need the vaping bill to come into force

I was pleased to be invited recently to Westminster to provide evidence to the committee of MPs examining the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. 

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill was introduced in the Commons on the 20th of March 2024.  It fulfils a series of government proposals to create a ‘smokefree generation’ and reduce the appeal and availability of vapes to young people. 

It would make it an offence anywhere in the UK to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009.  The bill would also allow the Secretary of State to make regulations restricting the retail packaging, contents and flavouring of vaping and nicotine products and produce new rules restricting the display of vaping or nicotine products in retail outlets. 

At Education South West, our purpose is to educate children so they can live great lives.  This education is not limited to the academic knowledge gained in the classroom but includes supporting young people to lead healthy lifestyles. 

Shockingly, according to Action on Smoking and Health in 2023 20.5 per cent of children had tried vaping, up from 15.8 per cent in 2022 and 13.9 per cent in 2020 before the first Covid lockdown. 

I was happy to travel up to the House of Commons to speak to the bill committee about the negative impact vaping and smoking has on children’s lives and the disruption it can bring to learning in schools.  

Vaping has clearly superseded traditional smoking as the bigger issue in schools and it presents a different set of issues for staff.  Vapes smell less potent than cigarettes and the vapour disperses more quickly than smoke, meaning they are difficult to detect with smoke detectors.  It can also be the case that groups will come together to vape in toilets, which can be intimidating for other students who wish to use the loos at break and lunch times.

This year we have had to put sanctions in place for 11-year-olds

It’s also the case that young people who have become heavily nicotine dependent due to vaping will often find excuses to leave classes and go to the toilet to vape during lessons, meaning they are missing out on lesson time.  Nicotine withdrawal in children can also affect their mood and make it hard for them to concentrate in lessons.

Schools are being challenged daily by vaping. We have this year put sanctions in place for 11-year-olds who have been in possession, and I am sure primary colleagues have faced such challenges. Without searching students, it is difficult to prove suspicions of vaping and the size of vapes means that they are more easily secreted. 

I have heard from schools across the country who have issues with students selling and sharing their vapes in school, which creates new issues for staff to deal with. It’s unfortunate to have to take disciplinary action against, perhaps even suspend students for vaping.

I highlighted the dangers of the way in which vapes are currently packaged and marketed to unsuspecting families, and why they are sometimes incorrectly viewed as safe. Letting a child vape at home because of the misapprehension that they are safe while not dreaming of allowing them to use cigarettes is something staff have also encountered from parents and carers across the country. 

I have not spoken to a single adult in school who thinks the bill is a bad idea. Those I have asked who are in their early twenties say they would have welcomed such restrictions when they were younger. 

That vaping has become normalised among young people is frightening, particularly when we don’t know the long-term impact on their health. Education South West are proud to take part in all initiatives that we can that will help make our society a safer and healthier place for everyone and I look forward to seeing how the bill progresses in parliament, I very much hope it reaches Royal Assent. 

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