By John Gerritsen of rnz.co.nz
Auckland secondary school principals are backing the Government's plan to prohibit vaping flavours where there are safety concerns and say vaping is reaching epidemic levels among their students.
They warn that without firm action New Zealand will have a new generation of people addicted to nicotine.
Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa said she would introduce a bill on vape regulation to Parliament in a few weeks that will have the ability to prohibit flavours where there are safety concerns.
Auckland Secondary Principals' Association president Richard Dykes said teenage vaping had become a serious problem in some of the city's schools.
"In some communities it is at epidemic proportions. This thing is just exploding in some schools. It seems to be more of an issue in higher-income-community schools.
"At some schools we are starting to see over 30 per cent of students have tried it. The percentages of people who are using it regularly are pushing up towards five, six-plus percent and the interesting thing about that statistic, that might seem low, but that's in schools where smoking has hit basically zero percent."
Mr Dykes said many students mistakenly believed vapes contained only water and flavouring and his school had teenagers who vaped and were addicted to nicotine.
He said he accepted that vaping had a role to play in weaning people off cigarettes, but young people who had never smoked were taking it up as a habit.
"The voice that hasn't been heard is the impact on adolescents and we need to address that because otherwise we're going to wake up in ten years time and realise we've got another generation of adults hooked onto another nicotine-based product."
The headmaster of Auckland Grammar, Tim O'Connor, said he considered vaping to be an epidemic at his school because of the high number of disciplinary cases involving boys who vaped on the school grounds.
"That includes things like young men thinking it's acceptable to vape in the toilets, to even vape in a classroom."
Mr O'Connor said the school was worried about the health effects of vaping.
Vapes should only be available as a prescription for people addicted to cigarettes, he said.
"In fact what has happened is the opposite has occurred, that is they've become a seductive product to teenagers and what we have now is an epidemic of modern smoking nicotine-related products," Mr O'Connor said.
But Ben Youdan from the anti-smoking group ASH urged caution, especially with regard to restricting flavours which helped smokers give up cigarettes by providing an alternative to the taste and smell of tobacco.
"I think there is a panic and I think it's extremely worrying if the policy is going to be about banning flavours. If you take away that appeal of vaping then there's going to be a hell of a lot of adults who are either going to relapse to smoking or be very unlikely to switch to something that's much, much safer," he said.
"In the kind of short-sighted aim of trying to protect children it's going to cause much more harm in the long run."
Mr Youdan said surveys showed some Year 10 students had tried vaping, but very few were regular users.
"We know that probably around about a third have tried even just a single puff of an e-cigarette or a vape device. Still less than around 3 percent are daily or weekly or regular vapers and of those who are almost all of them are or were smokers."