A number of disposable "vaping" devices have been confiscated from a school south of Wollongong, as teachers tackle an increase in usage among students.
The local high school principal told the Mercury he was seeing an increased use of e-cigarettes, more commonly referred to as "vapes".
"We have had to confiscate them and have contacted the parents and guardians of the students involved," he said.
"We have 125 adults who work at this school and not one of them smokes ... we have 1000 students and it is disappointing that we are now seeing some kids take up vaping.
"We are saying do not vape and we are getting wonderful support from parents who agree."
The school is also one of just a few in the Illawarra which have set up an informal partnership with the Heart Foundation to educate students about the dangers of vaping.
Heart Health NSW (Tobacco Control/Equity).senior coordinator Andy Mark said the Heart Foundation was currently considering how it could assist schools and education authorities to respond to the issue.
"From our discussions with staff, e-cigarettes are being used in classrooms, playgrounds and toilets," Mr Mark said.
"Parents and teachers need to know that e-cigarettes are not safe products. While their long-term effects are not yet known, there is growing evidence that they increase the risk of heart attack, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
"Importantly, most of the e-cigarettes confiscated from one school contained nicotine.
"Students who use nicotine-containing e-cigarettes will be at great risk of becoming addicted to nicotine and are three times more likely to go on to smoke cigarettes."
Importantly, most of the e-cigarettes confiscated from one school contained nicotine.Heart Health NSW (Tobacco Control/Equity).senior coordinator Andy Mark
Mr Mark added there has been an increase in the use of e-cigarettes in the past few years.
"This has been slowed by Australian laws that ban the sale of e-cigarettes with nicotine, and NSW laws banning their sale to under 18-year-olds. However, the usage rates are still concerning," he said.
"In 2019, almost 25 per cent of 18-24 year-olds and 20 per cent of 25-29 year-olds had tried an e-cigarette. Almost 10 per cent of 14-17-year-olds have tried them, according to the National Drug Household Survey.
"In 2017, an estimated 5 per cent of 12-year-olds had tried them."
An employee at a Wollongong vaping store agreed vaping was dangerous and illegal for those aged under 18.
"We do not cater for kids. As you can see it is dark in here and our products are just for adults. Vaping is designed to help people who want to quit smoking. That is the reason I started vaping. It has helped me tremendously," he said.
"There is nothing in what we sell that will get people addicted to vaping."
He added unfortunately kids were getting their hands on devices which can contain up to five per cent nicotine, under the counter through convenience stores and petrol stations.
An import ban of e-cigarettes and nicotine refills though was not the answer, according to UOW's Dr Celine Kelso.
The toxicology expert from the School of Chemistry and Molecular Bioscience at the University of Wollongong said vaping was beneficial for people trying to quit.
"It is a sensitive issue. As a parent myself I know that young kids are doing it, which is bad because vaping is not good for non-smokers.
"Like I do myself, I would advise parents to speak to their children and try to discourage them from vaping," Dr Kelso said.
A spokesman said the NSW Department of Education was aware that vaping among young people in the community is on the rise.
"Schools are smoke free environments and tobacco products including e-cigarettes are prohibited on school grounds, during any school-based activities and on transport to and from school," he said.
"We support schools with information about dealing with students who are found to be using or selling vaping liquid and accessories which include ensuring students receive medical treatment if necessary, notifying parents, engaging support officers, or Police Youth Liaison officers and providing advice around potential disciplinary action for students breaking school rules.
"Our resources are also continually updated and developed to support teachers to deliver age appropriate drug education in the classroom.
"NSW Health also supports school communities respond to health concerns by offering advice, programs, referrals, resources and information."
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