From One Puff to Addiction: Children and Vaping

By Simon Bennett

A damaged vape device on the ground. With wires and electronics outside the casing, these could be deadly in the hands of a child. Agricultural Minister Edwin Poots was contacted, but never responded about this issue. 

Since their introduction in the mid-2010’s, people have assumed that e-cigarettes are the ‘safer’ alternative to a normal cigarette. All the great qualities of tobacco, without the nicotine. People simply do not know how dangerous vaping is.

            A survey was sent out to various people between 10 and 90 years old, to try and gauge a mass public perceptive response, but the majority of the survey’s results came from people between 11-25, as they would be the target audience of vaping and e-cigarette products. Members of a local Church youth club were also questioned, as this got a sample of the measures used by local post-primary schools to raise awareness of the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping, as well as the children’s knowledge of the dangers. The children’s identities have been kept secret for their own safety.

            The first two students spoken to were from Ballymena Academy, one of the town’s top grammar schools. The two pupils said that they knew 5 to 6 people who vape. The pair were given education through their school, including around the dangers of nicotine, that the chemicals are dangerous for the lungs. The children also were taught that in some American vapes, they have so much nicotine that it’s illegal to have. The pair admitted that the problem of vaping in their school has become so bad that spot checks of pupils’ blazers and schoolbags has become a necessity. The school has no official, public policy on e-cigarettes and vaping, but it does have a smoking policy. This policy document is from the authoritative body, however, the included hyperlinks are now outdated and do not work. This is a reactive policy after the problem has peaked, rather than a proactive policy to have educated the students in advance. Having such an authoritative policy could make the problem worse, as it could create a black market for these, forcing students who want them to pay higher prices for their nicotine kick, including potentially purchasing more dangerous cigarettes, or vapes that could include a heavier dose of nicotine than normal.

A former Dunclug College pupil, who asked for her identity to be kept anonymous, admitted that the problem is still bad in the school. Pupils vape in toilets, which has become such a major problem that the school had planned to install cameras in the toilets, until they found out it is illegal to record school children in toilets. A third year student from Cullybackey College, a school in an economically deprived area of Ballymena, says that most of the school uses vapes and that they have been given little to no education on why it’s bad. Two Cambridge House pupils, a grammar school from an economically wealthy part of Ballymena, say that very little education has been given in the school about vaping. One said, the mentions of the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping happens irregularly, mostly during exam season, as they can be seen as a stress reliever. 

            These interviews show a major lack of teaching about the problems of e-cigarettes and vapes to children. A teacher from a special education school admitted that she has never been given any education into the problems and as such, has never educated the children about the problems of e-cigarettes and vaping. 

An abandoned JustMist vape bar, easily accessible for children.

            According to a statement from the Health Minister’s Press Office, ‘the evidence relating to the impact of vaping on children was considered as part of the 2017 consultation on restricting the age of sale of the products. According to the World Health Organisation, exposure to nicotine whilst still in adolescence can lead to long-term consequences for brain development. As a result, the WHO recommended that the sale and/or distribution of e-cigarettes to minors is banned’. This shows just how dangerous vaping is seen to be by the World Health Organisation. The statement also reads that ‘additionally, there is some concern about the potential for e-cigarettes to act as a gateway into smoking tobacco’. Many would believe that e-cigarettes and vapes are a way out of normal tobacco smoking, not a way into it. This statement shows just how dangerous e-cigarettes and vaping can be to children and adults. 

Vapes have become such a cultural norm that they are even advertised at petrol pumps throughout the country.

The survey heralded some interesting and surprising results. Two in every three people surveyed admitted to having tried a normal cigarette, whilst just under three in five have tried an e-cigarette or vape device. Two people responded to why they changed from tobacco cigarettes to Vape and e-cigarette devices. One said ‘to be healthier’, whilst the other said ‘for nights out’. 15% of the respondents said that they were not aware of the addictive qualities of e-cigarettes and vapes, whilst the other 85% were. This is surprisingly high for those aware of the addictive qualities. 8% of those questioned responded that they did not think that the Department of Health could do more to advertise what the addictive effects were, whilst 92% did. Of the 92% of responses, they were then questioned on what they thought the Health Department could do. The most common responses were education. Other responses for potential government measures included to add photos on packaging like cigarettes, however it may be impossible to photograph addiction like you can photograph the side effects of smoking. Some other responses included to ‘ban them in public areas’, ‘tv adverts and interviewing recovered addicts’ and ‘conduct research’. The most common responses were educating the public and young people, as well as conducting research into the effects of addiction.

            To conclude, there are genuine health benefits of using vape devices and e-cigarettes over normal cigarettes. The reduced amount of dangerous chemicals may outweigh the negatives of a permanent addiction. However, the majority of vapes contain nicotine like cigarettes and are just as addictive. The best alternative to both is to begin a process of quitting nicotine altogether, by using a Quit Kit, or another nicotine quitting device.