Schools to be told they should teach pupils about vaping risks

Government has announced more measures to cut down on vaping in schools, but campaigners say much more needs to be done

Government has announced more measures to cut down on vaping in schools, but campaigners say much more needs to be done

30 May 2023, 17:15

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Schools have been asked to ensure their policies on vaping are 'robust' by the Department of Health and Social Care

Schools will be told to teach pupils about the health risks of vaping as part of a government crackdown on the issue.

Schools are resorting to exclusions and toilet bans for pupils caught vaping on-site, as well as installing vape detectors, a Schools Week investigation found.

The government said today that its wider review of Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) will now also look at vaping.

Guidance to schools will be “explicit” that children should learn about the harms of vaping, as they do for other substances such as tobacco and alcohol, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) told Schools Week.

It added that further details on which age groups will be taught the risks would be released as part of the RSHE review outcome.

Current statutory RSHE guidance, which is statutory meaning schools have to follow it, states, for instance, that pupils “should know” the facts about legal and illegal harmful substances and associated risks, “including smoking, alcohol use and drug taking” by the end of primary school.

The government’s latest announcement also promised “action” would be taken in schools to ensure dedicated police school liaison officers were using “new resources” to keep vaping out of schools.

DHSC did not provide more details about the promised resources, but a previous blog states it had published new content on the potential risks of vaping for young people and was also developing a new resource pack on the issue for schools.

Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said the measures did “not” go far enough.

“Seeking to address the issue of youth vaping in schools is a bit like closing the door when the horse has bolted,” she added.

“To truly change youth vaping patterns we need to make the products the most appeal to them, disposable vapes, more expensive, tackle their promotion and crack down on illicit supply. Government announcements will not sufficiently do any of this.”

‘Schools need support on vaping from government’

Recent data from NHS Digital shows the proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds classed as current e-cigarette users increased to 9 per cent in 2021, up from 6 per cent in 2018.

A Schools Week investigation last year exposed the lengths headteachers were going to to eradicate vaping within schools, following a spike in pupils taking in devices after Covid.

As part of the same announcement, government announced it would close a legal loophole allowing the vaping industry to give free samples to children in England.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of leaders’ union ASCL, said the announcement on school liaison officers was “lacking in detail”.

“Presumably, this means through police staff helping out with education programmes with young people, but our impression is that police forces have cut back dedicated provision to schools because of lack of funding, so we are not sure how deliverable this will be in practice.”

He added that it was “important” updated RSHE guidance “is accompanied by sufficient resources and support for staff training from government”.

Today’s move follows an announcement last month of a new £3 million ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’, led by Trading Standards, to tackle the sale of vapes to under 18s.

A call for evidence on youth vaping will also look into the marketing and promotion of vapes to identify ways to reduce the number of children accessing and using the products.

In a statement, prime minister Rishi Sunak said: “I am deeply concerned about the sharp rise in kids vaping and shocked by reports of illicit vapes containing lead getting into the hands of school children.

“The marketing and the illegal sales of vapes to children is completely unacceptable and I will do everything in my power to end this practice for good.”

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