A quarter of pupils are vaping, headteacher tells MPs – with older children bulk buying to sell to younger students
The principal of a Lincolnshire school has told a committee of MPs young people are at risk from concerning chemicals and that alarms are being set off by students vaping in the toilets, causing disruption to classes.
By Emma Birchley, news correspondent
Wednesday 28 June 2023 16:29, UK
A school principal has told a committee of MPs that a quarter of her students are estimated to be vaping, with older pupils apparently bulk buying to sell to younger children.
Laranya Caslin, from St George’s Academy in Sleaford, Lincolnshire said lessons are being disrupted as alarms are set off in the toilets by pupils topping up on nicotine “on a really regular basis”.
She explained to members of the Health and Social Care Committee that one parent handed in five vapes they had found in their child’s bedroom, which they believe they intended to sell on to other pupils.
“The police had those analysed and the chemicals that were contained within, there was very little nicotine. In one there was only hydraulic oil and anti-freeze,” she said.
“In five vapes there were nine extremely concerning chemicals.”
The scrutiny by MPs follows a recent Sky News investigation which revealed a growing number of school children are being admitted to hospital – with vaping cited as a reason for their illness.
In the past year, 15 of those who required hospital care were aged nine or under.
Mrs Caslin also spoke of her concern about the pressure to fit in.
“Many of these lovely, lovely students – who I don’t think would ever dream of smoking – going and having a sneaky cigarette – have been drawn into vaping much more easily because it is perceived to be safe and because of the chat around the flavours…
“To be part of the peer-to-peer conversation you have to be in that crowd.”
She said some of the flavours “read like a sweet shop” with names such as Gummy Bear, Slushy and Unicorn Milk.
The MPs also heard from Deborah Arnott, from the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
She said ASH has three top measures it wants to see enforced: a £5 tax on vapes to make them less affordable; a ban on branding that appeals to children; and for vapes to be put out of sight and out of reach of young people.
Two representatives of the vaping industry were also questioned by the committee of MPs.
John Dunne, from the UK Vaping Industry Association, reiterated tougher regulation is needed with £10,000 fines for those selling to children.
He outlined how a court recently fined a retailer just £26 for selling a 14-year-old a vape.
“We are not in any way trying to get young people to use our products at all,” Mr Dunne said.
“We have a lot of wonderful laws in this country but unless they are enforced – unless there is a financial penalty for breaking those rules – you can make all the laws you want but they won’t be followed.
“And that’s why we are looking at punitive charges on those retailers and distributors and brands that are flouting the law.”
Meanwhile, Marcus Saxton, of the Independent British Vape Trade Association, argued the industry was not breeding a new generation of nicotine addicts.
“Anyone that’s using names that simulate food and drink should be targeted and prosecuted,” he said.
“Having said that, the role of flavours, if any of you have been a smoker, is absolutely critical to enable a successful quit attempt.”
Mr Saxton also pointed out that around two-thirds of the estimated £4bn vape industry in the UK is black market or illicit.
“It’s really important to understand the negative consequences of putting in the wrong regulation,” he said, adding that there’s a danger of allowing that underground market “to thrive”.
He also defended the use of advertising and sponsorship, such as the naming of St Helen’s RFC Totally Wicked Stadium after the vape brand.
He said: “We believe that everyone we can drive awareness to about the relative safety of vaping versus smoking is someone who is going to benefit from that.”