WHEN Sarah first noticed sweet fragrances in her 14-year-old daughter Lizzie’s room, she assumed it was a new perfume.
But the mum of two was in for a shock.
Sarah* said: “I asked Lizzie* what it was and she got coy and went a bit red, which was unlike her.
“I left it alone but when I checked her school bag, I found a vape. I was in complete shock — I don’t smoke, neither does her dad.
“There’s no way she looks 18, which is how old you have to be to buy them.”
One in five 15-year-olds in England use e-cigarettes, according to stats from NHS Digital.
While a survey from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) found vaping has almost doubled among 11 to 17-year-olds in Scotland in two years, rising from four per cent in 2020 to seven per cent in 2022.
The number of children admitting to trying it has also risen, from 14 per cent to 16 per cent.
Dr Mike McKean, vice-president of policy from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says more needs to be done to prevent people from starting.
He said: “I am deeply disturbed by the rise of children and young people picking up e-cigarettes.
“They remain a relatively new product and their long-term effects are still unknown.”
The NHS recommends e-cigarettes as an aid for stopping smoking, as they are less harmful than cigarettes.
Vapes do not burn tobacco or produce tar or poisonous carbon monoxide, which are both found in tobacco smoke.
They are also designed so that you inhale nicotine, rather than toxic smoke.
But nicotine is highly addictive and has been linked with increased blood pressure, heart rate and narrowing of the arteries.
Experts believe the cutesy, colourful, sweet-like branding around vapes plays a major role in their appeal to teens.
A study from University College London revealed that young people who had never smoked or vaped noticed e-cigarette marketing at a consistently higher rate than adults who smoked.
Small disposable vape pens, which come in flavours ranging from Cotton Candy Ice to Blue Razz Lemonade and Blueberry Sour Raspberry, cost from £4 a pop, and because they do not need to be charged or refilled, can be easily ditched at school.
Sarah, from Plymouth, believes Lizzie was sucked in by the teen-friendly packaging.
She explained: “Lizzie said she liked the doughnut, popcorn and marshmallow flavours and while she was relieved I’d found out and promised to quit, she confessed she did like her vape, which was a gold ombre one.
“The vape companies are clearly aiming these products at children.
“There are bubblegum, cookie, chocolate, cotton candy and millions of sweets flavours — what adult would want those tastes with their nicotine?
“The vapes themselves are bright colours and targeted at young people. They know exactly what they’re doing. It’s disgusting.”
Dr Mike agrees: “It’s clear children and young people are being targeted by e- cigarette companies with bright packaging, exotic flavours and enticing names.
“Disposable e-cigarettes are growing in popularity among children and young people and can be accessed easily in newsagents and sweet shops.
“Nowadays there is a vape shop on almost every high street.
“These companies are simply interested in hooking children and young people to make a profit off them. There is absolutely no thought or care about their health and wellbeing.”
I was in complete shock — I don’t smoke, neither does her dad.
Sarah says her daughter bought her vape in a shop and was not asked for ID.
She added: “There should be stricter regulations. If an off-licence was selling alcohol to under-18s, they’d have their alcohol licence revoked.”
There are currently restrictions around vapes, including strict rules on how much nicotine they can contain, but Dr Mike says more needs to be done to stop them appealing to children.
He said: “It is time for the Government to act by introducing plain packaging of e-cigarettes and nicotine and non-nicotine e-liquids packs.
“Tighter restrictions on advertising of vaping products are also needed to ensure these products are only advertised as a smoking-reduction aid rather than a fun and colourful lifestyle product.
“If action is not taken soon, we run the risk of having generations of children addicted to nicotine.”
Research has shown that young people using e-cigarettes are twice as likely to suffer from a chronic cough than non-users.
Vaping has also been found to reduce the function of the lungs. And in South Korea, research has shown it is associated with gum disease.
While Lizzie has quit vaping, she says a lot of her friends have no idea about the health risks.
She added: “I didn’t know they had nicotine in when I started.
“I’ve told my friends they do and that they could be almost as bad for you as smoking, but I don’t think they believe me.
“They taste nice and they’re in nice packaging, not like cigarette packets that have gross pictures on the front.
“There are loads of kids at my school vaping and I doubt anyone knows they’re really bad for you.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, says: “If you’re worried your teen may be vaping regularly, they may also be smoking, which is much more harmful.
“Tell them vaping is not for children and while it can help people quit smoking, if you don’t smoke, don’t vape.”
John Dunne, Director General of the UK Vaping Industry Association said: “The law is absolutely clear that no one under the age of 18 should be vaping, and we operate a zero-tolerance policy for anyone in our membership found to be selling vape goods to children.
“There are, sadly, some unscrupulous rogue traders out there, both online and off.
“Our position is if you have never smoked tobacco then you should not be vaping, and under-18s most definitely should not be using these products.
“We strongly condemn any marketing aimed at young people.”
How to talk to your child about vaping
ANTI-SMOKING group ASH says when it comes to talking to your teen about e-cigarettes, it’s best to have conversations by “asking” rather than “telling”.
Here’s some suggestions for different scenarios . . .
IF YOU’VE CAUGHT THEM VAPING
- ASK them why they vape and what they think about it. Let them talk, express themselves and think it through. That will help you find out what’s going on and how to help them.
- Try to understand why they are vaping by asking questions like, “What do you enjoy about vaping?”. Or “How does vaping make you feel?”.
And don’t forget to ask whether they smoke as well and, if so why.
- Reinforce that while you’d rather they neither smoked nor vaped, that smoking is much more worrying as it’s known to be very addictive and very harmful, while vaping is much less risky.
- Let them know you care about them and their health and wellbeing.
While vaping is less harmful than smoking, it is unlikely to be totally harm-free. Smokers who are vaping to quit should look to eventually stop vaping.
WORRIED THEY’RE VAPING BUT HAVEN’T CAUGHT THEM AT IT
FIND the right moment to talk about it. Don’t just raise it out of the blue but take advantage of situations where you can talk about vaping. For example, when you:
- See someone vaping
- Get information from school about vaping
- See advertisements
- Walk past a vape shop
- Hear or read a media item on vaping
- Rather than assuming they vape, ask whether people they know vape and what they think about it. If they tell you they are vaping, see above.
- Last but not least, be patient and prepared to listen.