The Cancer Society is calling on the Government to limit access to e-cigarettes and ban vape flavours attractive to children as a survey shows 89 per cent of secondary schools and eight per cent of primary schools are aware of students vaping at school.
The Cancer Society Auckland-Northland says of the 320 respondents to its nationwide survey, including 142 primary schools, three-quarters had seen an increase in the number of students vaping in the past year.
Nearly half of all schools surveyed described student vaping as a problem at their school.
Schools across all decile ratings were affected, but slightly more higher decile schools reported awareness of students vaping at school.
The Cancer Society says the findings underline the urgent need for upcoming government vaping regulation to protect children and young people from industry marketing and nicotine addiction.
Several schools surveyed highlighted that children, and some parents, see vaping as safe rather than a "less harmful" option to smoking cigarettes and that it’s being picked up by kids who have never previously smoked.
The Cancer Society is calling on the Government to limit access to e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, for example to specialist shops or through quit smoking services.
It also wants vape flavours that are attractive to children banned.
The society is also calling on the Government to reduce access to ordinary cigarettes, continue to increase excise tax on smoked tobacco products, limit the levels of nicotine in all tobacco products and ensure all smoke-free areas are also vape free.
It says the survey adds to concerns identified in a recent Cancer Society evidence review about vaping in school children.
The review author Candace Bagnall says solid international research has shown young people who vape are around four times more likely to take up smoking traditional cigarettes than their peers who don’t vape.
“To have a whole new generation hooked on tobacco products would be a disaster for cancer prevention” she said, especially at a time when youth smoking rates are now below five per cent.
Ms Bagnall says the survey findings support earlier statements from Auckland school principals and contradict data collected in the 2018 ASH Year 10 survey showing regular vaping is less than two per cent of Year 10 students.
She says the ASH data has not picked up the impact over the past 18 months from the widespread availability of nicotine vapes, and aggressive advertising and PR tactics of the vaping and tobacco industries.
“This is an issue that is reaching into the homes of large numbers of New Zealand families. We’re hearing that some schools are struggling to come to grips with the problems caused by nicotine addiction in students.”
Ms Bagnall says some of the vaping products have much higher levels of nicotine than ordinary cigarettes and there are signs that behavioural issues recently documented in the US – anxiety and mood swings, sudden outbursts, and other behaviours more typical of people with substance abuse disorders – are starting to show up here.
The Cancer Society acknowledges that current evidence suggests vaping is less likely than smoking to cause cancer, but e-cigarettes do contain known carcinogens at relatively low levels, Ms Bagnall says.
"The problem is, there’s not enough long-term data about these products to be confident about its safety."