E-cigarettes: Why vaping is on the rise in schools and what can be done about it

  • Video report by Gwennan Campbell

A headteacher has called for more regulation of the use of e-cigarettes after seeing more pupils smoking them at school.

An e-cigarette is an electronic device that produces an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine—the addictive drug found in normal cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products.

They can be bought in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours - and are growing in popularity.

One vape shop owner in Llanelli told ITV News he has witnessed parents looking to buy them for their children, despite them being below the legal age.

Ethan Smith, who owns Rebel Vaper in Llanelli, said it has become a real problem over the last few months.

"They'll come in with fake IDs... they'll even come in with their parents and try and get their parents to buy one. They'll stand on the end of the street and ask people to come in for them", he said.

"There's a new type of vape now which is a disposable vape, they all come in really colourful packets and crazy flavours."

One vape shop owner says young people often come in to try and buy his products

E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke. The liquid and vapour contain some potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, but at a much lower level, according to the NHS.

A study from the charity Mix, which provides support to young people under 25, shows that the proportion of young people vaping over the past 12 months almost trebled to 44% - up from 15% in 2021.

The figures come just a few months after the Welsh Government set out a plan to make Wales a smoke-free nation by 2030.

Ionwen Spowage, the Headteacher at Ysgol Bro Dinefwr in Llandeilo told ITV News, "there is not enough regulation in regards to vaping.

"While the legislation is there and it's illegal to purchase for young people, what we don't have is that sanction and the law specifically in terms of use on public sites."

Pupils from Ysgol Bro Dinefwr said they are shocked at how many pupils have been found vaping in school.

She added trying to police the use of vapes in school is a particular challenge.

"Young people are trying to hide them from sight, they know it's something they should not be doing so they try and find every corner that they can hide them.

"Cigarettes - they set off smoke alarms, vapes don't do any such thing, so you're looking for congregations of young people, you're looking for that tell-tale aroma from the vapes, but obviously you need to be there at the right time."

  • What's the law on e-cigarettes and vapes?

Warnings for e-cigarettes have been in place for some time to encourage people against using them.

It has been illegal to sell e-cigarettes to children and young people under the age of 18 in Wales and England since 2015 when the Nicotine Inhaling Products (Age of Sale and Proxy Purchasing) Regulations came into force.

In 2016, the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations stated that e-cigarettes and refill products must be "child-resistant and tamper evident."

It also says e-cigarettes and refill products must display the addictiveness and toxicity of the item on the packaging.

In Wales, people can use an e-cigarette/vape in a place that is required to be smoke-free. However those responsible for particular places and settings can ban the use of e-cigarette if they choose.

E-cigarettes can have the potential to benefit people trying to give up smoking, but there are fears it has grown in popularity among younger people.

Smoking and Wellbeing Practitioner Trystan Wyn Sion said young people must be made aware of the risks.

"Nicotine is a very addictive substance, we know that it has a big impact on the developing brain and we also know that young people are far more susceptible to the addiction of nicotine."

Helen Wright, who works at a new addiction service for Hywel Dda Health Board, helps children stop vaping.

"We can offer behavioural support and nicotine replacement to either help them quit or to help them abstain during the school day so they're not entering into withdrawal and they're not having to go and vape in the toilet."

  • 'One of my biggest regrets'

Mark Drakeford said not passing a bill which would have put more control around e-cigs' use was one of his 'biggest regrets'

After meeting with school pupils to discuss the issue, First Minister Mark Drakeford said failing to pass a law to ban vaping in public places, like tobacco cigarettes, is one of his "biggest political regrets."

"We had the chance in Wales to do something different that would've protected young people from the risks that vaping and e-cigarettes brings."

As Wales' Health Minister between 2013 and 2016, Mark Drakeford tried to ban vaping in public places and put "significant more control over the use of e-cigarettes" compared to today.

The bill missed out on becoming law by just one vote on the last day of the Senedd term.

But the First Minister has recently said that, "We are going back to see if we could rescue from what we lost, because the evidence of young people being drawn into nicotine addiction by e-cigarettes is really frightening."