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Schools forced to take action in toilets due to child vaping

Some schools are having to switch smoke detectors to heat sensors to prevent vaping by children setting off alarms during lessons and exams, MPs have heard.

The Health and Social Care Committee was told about vaping rates in schools, with headteachers being forced to monitor toilets due to the number of children using e-cigarettes.

In evidence to the MPs’ inquiry on youth vaping, Laranya Caslin, headteacher at St George’s Academy in Sleaford, which teaches children aged 11 to 18, told of her problems in tackling youth vaping.

Also giving evidence to the committee were representatives from the UK vaping industry and experts from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPH) and Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).

Mrs Caslin told MPs: “We have a significant proportion of students vaping and they’re vaping regularly and, in some cases, making excuses to leave lessons to go to the toilet to vape.

“I think we have seen across our catchment area a significant increase (in vaping).

“My head student team would estimate the proportion to be around 25% of students at the school (who) are vaping and the local police – who we work really closely with – would echo that from their experience in the market square around the town.

“Contrasting that to number of students smoking cigarettes pre-pandemic – that was very rarely an issue in school, so this is a much bigger issue.

“One example…that is definitely impacting on education is students vaping in the toilet and setting off the fire alarm. And so we’re having to interrupt learning on a regular basis or go out."

She said there were vape sensors on the market but they were “not cheap” and suggested schools should be given access to specific grants so they could buy them for their buildings.

Asked about youngsters’ motivation to vape, Mrs Caslin said there was a perception it was “cool” and youngsters were subject to peer pressure.

“And then I think once they’re vaping, the level of addiction we’re seeing is perhaps higher than it would have been amongst smokers,” she added.

She said “we have regularly caught students leaving lessons to vape” and children who felt they needed to “top up” their nicotine levels on a regular basis.

Her views have been echoed by other teachers, who have said they have to take action to stop vaping on their premises, including in toilets.

The committee also heard that doctors have said there are some children with asthma in their care who can no longer use school toilets due to vaping triggering attacks.

Dr Helen Stewart, officer for health improvement at RCPCH, suggested to the committee that she thought the college would support a ban on vaping in public places.

Asked if the RCPCH would “support vaping being included in the legislation that bans tobacco smoking in public areas, like clubs, pubs, bars, those sort of places?”, she replied: “I think that’s something we definitely would support.

“We know that the effects are passive as well as from active smoking, so that’s definitely something that we would support.”

The RCPCH has already says it wants to see a ban on disposable vapes, which are popular with children.

Later, MPs also questioned John Dunne, director general of the UK Vaping Industry Association, and Marcus Saxton, chairman of the Independent British Vape Trade Association.

In a sometimes tense exchange with MPs, the pair denied their members were promoting flavours to children.

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