Vaping use is now an ‘epidemic’ among Nottinghamshire schoolchildren, a youth worker has warned.
Henry Wheeler, who is also a Labour County Councillor, also says vapes are now used “as a fashion accessory” by some pupils.
Cllr Wheeler said: “I’ve worked with young people for 24 years and this is becoming a massive problem.
“It is an epidemic because it is a problem across the country.
“I feel not enough is being done from taking the habit up as we don’t know the hidden health impacts of it.”
He raised concerns about the hidden health implications of the habit at the Nottinghamshire County Council health board meeting on March 8.
The issue was also discussed at the Adult Social Care and Public Health Select Committee on March 13.
Dr Catherine Pritchard, Consultant in Public Health at the county council, said: “The message is clear if the choice is between vaping and smoking, choose to vape, if the choice is between vaping and fresh air, choose fresh air.”
She said a number of measures are being brought in to tackle vaping in schools.
Vapes and e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices, most of which contain nicotine and flavouring.
Widely available in the UK since around 2005, they are a popular option for tobacco smokers trying to quit.
But concerns have been raised about cheap, disposable and colourful vapes – – which some experts warn are becoming especially popular among young people.
Current NHS advice says while vaping poses a “small fraction” of the risk of smoking cigarettes, it is not “completely risk-free”, and the long-term health risks are not yet clear.
Cllr Wheeler, who represents the Coppice ward in Gedling, added: “I don’t think vapes are all they are cracked to be in terms of a healthy alternative to smoking – although it’s true they’re a good aid for people who are established smokers.
“I have seen a big increase in young people taking up vaping that have never smoked before. Some of them then start smoking.
“They have become a fashion accessory and the young people can’t switch off from it because it is so addictive.”
He said more needs to be done to stop vape shops from selling the products to young people.
Age-restricted laws around vaping are similar to tobacco.
Selling vaping products to anyone aged under 18 and buying vaping products for anyone under 18 are both illegal.
But a national NHS survey of secondary school children in 2018 found around six per cent of young people used vapes and by 2021 this number had risen to nine per cent.
The same research showed around one in five fifteen-year-old girls currently say they are using e-cigarettes.
One vaper in Nottingham, who did not wish to be named, said he started vaping in order to quit smoking.
He said: “I definitely feel better for it and I don’t ever really crave a cigarette anymore.
“I think a lot more understanding is probably needed into them because they’re more addictive to me than normal fags.
“I get that people are concerned about vaping in schools because it’s only ever something I considered to stop smoking in the first place.
“The packaging can be quite appealing, especially the bright colours and fruity flavours, which is probably why it’s being used more by children.”
The public health team at Nottinghamshire County Council says it is taking action including work on age-restricted sales of vapes.
And 48 local secondary schools will also be taking part in a vaping prevention programme over the next four years.
The council is also developing resources for schools to use in tackling the problem.
Cllr Glynn Gilfoyle (Lab) said during the meeting on March 13: “Smoking is an issue I’ve been passionate about for years.
“I lost my father when he was 54 to smoking, he had smoked since he was about 11.
“I’ve always been totally against smoking but I do understand people do get addicted.
“My concern is we don’t know the long-term impact that vaping is going to have on people.
“It is not unusual to see eight and nine-year-olds using vapes in Worksop. It is more prevalent than what we believe.”
Cllr Mike Pringle (Lab) added: “I’ve got a serious issue with regards to the recycling of the product.
“When a fag butt is dropped, it takes 10 years apparently for that to degrade.
“If we’re dropping an e-cigarette how long does that take to degrade?
“As regards attracting kids, change the legislation from bubblegum flavours and make it dog poo and I’m sure that would stop some of them.
“I am fearful that we will end up paying for this further down the line.”
Dr John Doddy, who chairs the health board, said: “Nobody believes that anything isn’t better than a product which when sold to them such as cigarettes kills over 50 per cent of every single user.
“It is the biggest cause of premature deaths and cancer that exists within the country.
“Statistics say vaping is at least 95 per cent safer.”
Dr Catherine Pritchard, Consultant in Public Health, said funding has been put into trading standards conduct underage product testing to cover vapes, tobacco and alcohol within Nottinghamshire shops.
She added: “If you do have concerns with relation to shops selling to under-18s please let trading standards know.
“We’ve rolled out a programme called the Intent programme and we’ve rolled that out to look at vaping as well as smoking. That is being rolled out to schools.
“We are doing some work to get an understanding about why young people are vaping. We know there’s influence from Tik Tok and Instagram.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are clear that children should not use vapes and have introduced regulations to prevent them from vaping.
“The law protects children from vapes through restricting sales to over 18s only, limiting nicotine content, refill bottle and tank sizes, labelling requirements and through advertising restrictions.
“Adverts for vapes and their components are prohibited from featuring anything likely to be of particular appeal to people under the age of 18, such as characters or celebrities they would be familiar with.”