Should we be concerned about vaping?

Looking at the image below of a grape-flavoured e-cigarette or vape, I can’t help thinking of alcopop drinks like Bacardi Breezers and Vodka Cruisers which marketers have heavily designed to attract young people to its product. The vape has certainly grown exponentially and, although research is still in its infancy, signs are suggesting it has the potential and recipe to cause poor health and mass addiction to a whole new generation.

Firstly, we need to understand what e-cigarettes are. They are battery powered and can look like cigarettes, pipes or memory sticks. The battery heats a liquid solution into a vapour that the person breathes in. These liquids may contain a range of toxic chemicals that can add flavour and some contain nicotine (even some of those that are labelled nicotine-free).

As stated, their effects are currently relatively unknown as the first e-cigarette was only developed in 2003, but some long-term risks already confirmed include lung disease and cardiovascular issues, impaired blood vessel function and increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Short-term risks, although not fully realised, include nausea, vomiting, mouth and airway irritation, chest pain and heart palpitations. There is a common myth that vaping is harmless and is merely water vapour, but many toxic particles are found in e-cigarettes, including:

  • formaldehyde and acrolein, which can cause irreversible lung damage
  • propylene glycol, which is toxic to human cells
  • nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm the still-developing adolescent brain, particularly in areas that control attention, learning, mood and behavioural control.
    (The Lung Foundation Australia)

The worry with such products is their largely unregulated manufacturing and importation with no quality control over how products are made or what chemicals or toxins they contain.

In Victoria, strict rules apply around the use of e-cigarettes which are similar to that of traditional cigarettes:

  • It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to or buy them for anyone under the age of 18, regardless of whether the e-cigarettes contain nicotine.
  • It is also prohibited for anyone under the age of 18 to obtain, possess or use nicotine e-cigarettes, e-cigarette cartridges containing nicotine, or nicotine liquids for use in a vaporiser.
  • It is illegal to smoke or use e-cigarettes on school grounds or within four metres of any pedestrian entry point, including school entrances. The smoking ban applies to anyone present on school grounds during and outside of school hours, including students, teachers, contractors, parents or carers. The wider community, such as sporting groups, are also subject to the smoking and vaping ban.
  • Schools must post 'No Smoking' signs and enforce the law.

We will endeavour to educate our students about the risks and legalities of e-cigarettes. We have also invited Paul Dillon from Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) to come and speak again to our Senior School students and offer a parent evening on Monday 20 June. I would also encourage all parents to read some useful pages from the DARTA site.

Christian Gregory
Deputy Head of Senior School – Student Wellbeing

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