Young people will need support for nicotine addiction after a ban on vapes - Rhiannon Wilkinson

I am no scientist, but it seems obvious to me that inhaling any chemical substance is inherently going to cause risk. Up until recently it has been a source of despair for me that for so long the commercialisation of vaping has been allowed to continue unchecked despite the potential damage caused by products and the lack of conclusive research about long-term effects.

This is why all those who work in education and with children and young people will welcome this week’s announcement by the Prime Minister that disposable vapes are to be banned in the UK to tackle the rise in youth vaping and to protect our children’s health. It is a positive step forward. But it is not the end of the story.

There is much work underway, nationally and internationally, to achieve a ‘smoke-free future’, but that needs to go hand in hand with a ‘vape-free future’. Not a straightforward task.

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The positive impacts of vaping on helping adults to quit smoking cannot be underestimated. But vaping, particularly among children and young people, is fast becoming a new health epidemic.

Disposable vapes of varying flavours on sale in a store. PIC: Jacob King/PA WireDisposable vapes of varying flavours on sale in a store. PIC: Jacob King/PA Wire
Disposable vapes of varying flavours on sale in a store. PIC: Jacob King/PA Wire

Vaping is highly addictive. Most vapes contain nicotine. Increased use by adults as a smoking cessation treatment has led to a surge in the range of products available, particularly those with a pleasant flavouring which appeal to children. These products and their associated marketing however disguise potential harms and can create long-term addiction.

One of the many problems associated with young people using vapes is that their brain development continues into their twenties. Nicotine alters the brain to make it more receptive to the substance. Its impact therefore is greater the younger you start using it.

Vaping has been linked to a variety of problems in young people. Correlation is not necessarily causation, but there are significant concerns among educators, parents and health professionals about its potential impact on some people.

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It seems that vaping’s addictive capacities cannot be denied. It has been linked to a list of other potential harms such as difficulty in concentrating, respiratory problems, appetite suppression (which may impact eating disorders), halitosis, and mental health difficulties.

I look forward to the outcome of the parliamentary vote, which could see the ban on vapes and a crackdown on the sale of some fruit-flavoured varieties and in-store marketing coming into force late this year or in early 2025. In the meantime however, it’s important that support is in place to help address the use of disposable vapes by children.

We also need to help treat nicotine addiction in a supportive manner and be ready to deal with the potential consequences of a proposed ban, whether it’s a drive of users towards other nicotine products or attempts by the industry to work around the proposed legislation.

A positive partnership between home and school is essential for all manner of things in a young person’s life, whether it is about facilitating their academic progress or equipping them to deal with the issues they face in today’s complex world.

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Young people need to feel involved in the conversation, not vilified, if we are to have any hope of creating a better future for them.

Rhiannon Wilkinson is Head of Ashville College, an independent co-educational school in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, for pupils aged 2 to 18.

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