West Belfast Community worker outlines 'scary' increase in number of young people vaping

A west Belfast community worker has said the amount of young people now using vapes or e-cigarettes in the area is "scary".

It comes as the UK Government has launched an eight-week consultation in a bid to tackle the issue of children using the devices.

Paul Niblock told UTV that "in and around 2010 we saw a massive decline in the number of people smoking cigarettes, but now we see nearly every kid come in with someone smoking a vape, they're sharing vapes.

"You only need to look around here to see the sheer amount of vape boxes and retainers.

"The flavours they're selling, you start to question who they are actually for."

The government's public consultation includes a number of proposals, such as:

  • restricting vape flavours and descriptions so that they don't target children

  • moving the location of vapes in shops so they're out of children's eyeline

  • regulating packaging so it doesn't target children

  • exploring whether increasing the cost would reduce the number of young people using vapes

Earlier this week, UTV spoke to 12-year-old Sarah Williams who was left fighting for her life when the effects of vaping, combined with her asthma and a cold, left her in intensive care.

Dr Dara O'Donoghue is a consultant respiratory paediatrician who treated her.

"You might describe it as the perfect storm," he told UTV.

"If children are not taking their preventer inhalers, we know that they're at signifcantly greater risk of having an asthma attack.

"Viral infections are prevalent at the moment and we can't do anything about that.

"But vaping is a modifiable factor and we can stop taking vapes and that will ultimately improve our chances of not having any deterioration of symptoms."

Dr O'Donoghue said: "Increasingly over the last six to 12 months we've noticed that children are coming in having had exposure to avpes and we're just concerned that that's exacerbating, or worsening their symptoms.

"The problem is however that a lot of children seem to conceal it. We're trying to speak to them on a one to one basis without their parents to try and get a little bit more information about that to inform our management considerations for their condition.

"Studies also show that a fifth of children now in the UK have used vapes in the last year and yet vapes are illegal to be sold to children under the age of 18 so we're concerned about the health implications caused to children by vaping."

"Vapes do have a positive role in stopping smoking - as a tool for stopping smoking - but no children should be having vapes, so if you don't smoke, you shouldn't vape," add Dr O'Donoghue.

"We don't want to have our children to be exposed to any of these risks or potential risks. We have an obligation to protect our children from these risks.

"If your child comes forward and says they've been using vapes, parents need to encourage them to at least cut down and preferentially stop as the health care worries are only evolving, we don't know what the long term outcomes are and we need to avoid long term outcomes for our children."

Winter is also a time when respiratory viral infections are on the rise, something which Dr O'Donoghue says is "an opportunity to get a bit more information from children who present with chest difficulties and to enquire about their exposure to vaping, both in primary care and secondary care.

"It's an opportunity to address vaping habits and stop this happening when it can."

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