Vaping in Schools and What We’re Doing to Protect Students

Vaping in Schools and What We’re Doing to Protect Students

Table of Contents

With the alarming reports about young people vaping in schools in Australia, you might be wondering what’s true and what’s just hot air. Mounting evidence suggests vaping can cause a number of harms. These range from short-term breathing difficulties to a possible heightened cancer risk.

Disturbingly, the number of young people vaping is on the rise. Recent Australian research found that while less than 1% of 14 to 17 olds vaped in 2018, this had jumped to over 14% by March 2023. The Australian Government has announced a host of crackdowns in an attempt to stem rising vaping rates.

Many young vapers are also students, making this an issue schools must address as well. At Australian Christian College we take vaping seriously and have various options for dealing with it. Before discussing them, it’s helpful to understand a bit more about vaping and how it can impact young people’s wellbeing.

What is vaping?

Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid (called e-liquid or ‘vape juice’) to the point where it becomes a vapour. Inhaling this vapour is known as vaping. Electronic cigarettes are also known as vapes, e-hookahs, and E-cigarettes. They usually look like regular cigarettes, pipes or cigars, but may also resemble everyday items such as USB sticks or pens.

A nicotine-containing liquid is most often used in vapes. They are also used to inhale cannabis or nicotine-free liquids made from chemicals such as solvents, sweeteners, and various flavourings.

Is vaping legal?

In Australia, vaping products that contain nicotine are only available with a doctor’s prescription. This is the case whether they are purchased at a pharmacy or imported from overseas.

In most states and territories, nicotine-free vaping products are legally available for purchase in online and retail stores by people aged 18 and over.

What are the dangers of vaping?

Research is still examining the effects of vaping, but it is not considered to be safe. The Australian Government’s Department of Health and Aged Care note that:

  • e-liquids may contain harmful substances, including chemicals known to cause cancer and DNA damage.
  • vaping may increase the risk of diseases including lung and heart disease and cancer.
  • using e-cigarettes as a young person is strongly associated with future smoking.

Furthermore, the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne explains vaping carries particular risks for children and teens. Firstly, most E-cigarettes contain nicotine (even many that are labelled as nicotine-free), which is extremely addictive, particularly in teenagers.

Exposure to nicotine can:

Poisoning is another risk, especially in young children, who can die from even small amounts of nicotine.

Additionally, you can’t necessarily believe what the labels say. A recent study analysed 52 flavoured e-liquids available for sale over the counter in Australia. It found:

  • 100% of them were not labelled accurately
  • 100% contained substances with unknown effects on lung health
  • 21% contained nicotine (although this is illegal)
  • 62% contained chemicals that would probably be toxic if used repeatedly.

How schools are managing vaping

News reports about schools struggling to deal with student vaping abound. And it’s clear vaping in schools has become a significant problem in Australia. According to University of Sydney researchers, 32% of students aged 13 to 17 they surveyed had tried vaping.

They also surveyed school personnel, including teachers, principals and administrators. Of the teachers surveyed, 86% reported being “highly concerned” about vaping at their school. Many described vaping as a key problem they had to deal with outside the classroom. Their surveys also showed:

  • 58% of teachers had confiscated vaping products from students at least twice per week
  • 62% of teachers knew vaping products were being sold on school premises.

One principal told them vaping was “probably the single most disruptive thing in our school at the moment.”

The researchers emphasised the risks of vaping addiction and suggested that making vaping products harder to buy is vital.

Similarly, researchers from Queensland’s Griffith University found vaping is common in students. They noted peer pressure and curiosity are common reasons why young people try vapes. Importantly, their surveys showed young people understand that vaping is unsafe and unhealthy. They suggest schools, along with parents, have real opportunities to help young people “avoid the serious harms associated with vaping.”

What we’re doing about vaping at Australian Christian College (ACC)

Because ACC puts student welfare as our highest priority, we take a hard stance against (vaping). At ACC, our mission is to equip every student to flourish academically, spiritually, socially and physically. The practice of vaping, and the harms associated with it, goes against our goal of helping students reach their potential and positively influence the world around them.

We also know young people’s brains are still developing and they need guidance to make good decisions. They might try vaping for many reasons. Maybe their friends are doing it and they feel pressure to fit in. Perhaps they saw people they admire vaping on social media. They might believe using e-cigarettes is less harmful than smoking. Or they might try vaping as a way to deal with stress. Companies also design products to appeal to young people, making vaping seem cool with fun devices and sweet flavours. For these reasons, we need to deal with vaping using a balance of grace and truth.

In line with our policy on illicit drugs, students are prohibited from consuming or distributing any vaping-related items. This is the case whether they are an ACC campus, attending an organised event, in transit to and from ACC, or representing ACC to the public in any way. Furthermore, students are not to attend ACC or other ACC-related activities (such as sporting events) while under the influence of harmful substances.

Breaches of these rules are dealt with on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the school Principal. Parents will be contacted in every case. Several actions may be taken depending on the severity of the situation. These range from student counselling to detention to expulsion.

At ACC, our overarching vision involves building Biblical foundations into every student’s life and encouraging them to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and fulfil their God-given purpose. For students struggling with vaping, we will do everything we can to help them overcome it and pursue a healthy, fulfilling future.

Practical Advice: Taking a Proactive Stance Against Vaping in Schools

Addressing the rise of vaping among young individuals requires a proactive approach that encompasses prevention, education, clear consequences, and a united front against this harmful trend. In this section, we will delve into the various strategies that can be employed to effectively tackle vaping in schools.

1. Targeted Age-Appropriate Education: The Foundation of Prevention

The most crucial step in preventing vaping among students is education. Schools must provide targeted seminars that cater to students' age groups, informing them about the dangers of vaping. Simultaneously, parents should also be engaged through educational sessions that equip them with knowledge about the risks associated with vapes. By establishing a common understanding between students, parents, and educators, a unified front against vaping is forged.

2. Schoolwide Awareness: Integration into Induction Sessions

Addressing vaping shouldn't be confined to standalone educational sessions. It should be seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the school culture. During new student induction sessions, the topic of vaping and its consequences should be discussed. This sets the tone for a zero-tolerance stance against vaping from the moment students step onto the campus.

3. Certainty of Consequences: Deterrence Through Clarity

To discourage vaping on school grounds, students and the entire school community must be well aware of the potential consequences. Uncertainty breeds an environment where rule-breaking becomes more likely. By clearly communicating the repercussions of vaping, schools establish a strong deterrent against this behavior.

4. Collaborative Approach: Involving Parents in Incident Management

When incidents of vaping occur, it's essential to involve parents in the resolution process. Their insights and cooperation can help determine appropriate consequences and support for the students involved, considering their age and context. This collaborative approach reinforces a sense of partnership between schools and parents in fostering a safe environment.

5. Fostering an Anti-Vaping Culture: Empowering Students

A vital aspect of prevention is creating a student culture that rejects vaping outright. When students understand the harm vaping poses not only to themselves but also to their peers, they become advocates for a healthier environment. Schools should promote open conversations about vaping, encouraging students to voice their concerns and actively combat any culture of secrecy or approval.

6. Designing Out Opportunities: Architecture and Supervision

Minimising opportunities for vaping requires a multifaceted approach. Architectural design plays a role in this, such as single cubicle bathroom designs and reduction of unsupervised congregating areas. Effective supervision, bolstered by tools like CCTV in less monitored spaces, is pivotal in reducing the chance of vaping incidents. Clear procedures for students outside of classrooms further diminish opportunities for vaping.

7. Countering Targeted Marketing: Addressing Different Age Groups

Vaping companies often target young audiences with alluring marketing strategies. To counter this, schools must adapt their education to cater to various age groups. The way vaping is addressed in Year 6 will differ greatly from how it's approached in Year 9 or 10. By tailoring information to the developmental stage of students, schools can effectively debunk marketing myths and empower students to make informed choices.

In conclusion, the battle against vaping in schools necessitates a proactive and comprehensive strategy. From education and collaboration to architectural design and age-specific approaches, schools play a pivotal role in preventing vaping and safeguarding the well-being of their students. By adopting these measures, schools can build a strong foundation against the allure of vaping, fostering a culture of health and responsibility.

Peter Bromhead

Peter Bromhead

Peter Bromhead is the Deputy Business Development Manager at Christian Education Ministries and is both an educator and published author. With two decades of experience in Christian schooling, Peter holds a Bachelor of Education from The University of Sydney, is an alumnus of the AIS National Flagship Program, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Educational Leadership. His most recent role as Assistant Principal at one of Australia's fastest-growing independent schools has equipped him with a unique perspective in the realm of school improvement, development, and culture. Peter's passion lies in supporting the growth of Christian schools, helping them foster thriving communities that effectively fulfill their unique, God-given mission and purpose. Beyond his work, Peter enjoys spending quality time with his family and church. He and his wife are raising two daughters in the picturesque Lake Macquarie Hunter Region.