The West Live: Parents of WA student addicted to ‘vaping’ plead with Education Dept to ‘take it seriously’

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Ben O'SheaThe West Australian
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Parents of a 16-year-old Perth boy with a severe nicotine addiction from vaping say it’s time the Education Department “take it seriously”.
Camera IconParents of a 16-year-old Perth boy with a severe nicotine addiction from vaping say it’s time the Education Department “take it seriously”. Credit: Alyssa Langella / EyeEm/File photo/Getty Images

As principals at some WA schools brace for an e-cigarette epidemic among students, parents of a 16-year-old with severe nicotine addiction from vaping say it’s time the Education Department “take it seriously”.

John and Joanne, who spoke exclusively to The West Live on the condition of anonymity, said their son, a student at a prominent public school in the western suburbs, knew “smoking was stupid” but began experimenting with vaping last year under the impression it was a cool, healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Within months, the family found themselves in front of a GP, in desperate need of assistance to break what had become a serious nicotine addiction.

“(Our son) is not really in charge of his behaviour right now,” Joanne said.

“I wish the schools and the public eduction system would take it seriously, because we, for over a year, have done everything we can, and then he goes to school and all bets are off ... from our perspective it’s heads in the sand (from the education system).”

Australian Council on Smoking and Health chief executive Maurice Swanson said all the anecdotal evidence pointed to a spike in the use of vaping devices by Perth teenagers, which follows a well-publicised spike in the Eastern States.

Mr Swanson said John and Joanne’s experience did not come as a surprise, because a single vape pod, which often come in sweet flavours desirable to young people, could deliver as much nicotine as a full pack of 25 cigarettes.

“In terms of young teenagers, if they start to use these devices they can become very quickly addicted,” he said.

Mr Swanson said the spike in use was being driven by the accessibility of cheap vapes online, where disposable e-cigs can be sourced for less than $20, and marketing campaigns for the devices on social media platforms such as TikTok.

“Those messages are being sponsored by tobacco companies ... and it’s highly targeted at young people, particularly teenagers ... and now there’s very solid evidence that young people who are non-smokers ... who get hooked on nicotine from vaping, are three or four times more likely to graduate to smoking ordinary cigarettes,” he said.

“Tobacco companies need to recruit new young smokers to replace adults who are giving up or dying.”

Aquinas College deputy principal Duncan Walters sent a letter to parents last month regarding vaping on campus, warning “of potentially harmful and unlawful actions by some of our students”.

“Unfortunately, despite the education around the health impact and clear consequences for vaping on campus a number of students have been using e-cigarettes on campus or travelling to and from school,” the letter stated.

Maurice Swanson said all the anecdotal evidence pointed to a spike in the use of vaping devices by Perth teenagers
Camera IconMaurice Swanson said all the anecdotal evidence pointed to a spike in the use of vaping devices by Perth teenagers Credit: Ian Munro/WA News

As a result, Aquinas has now installed vape detectors in some of the toilets on its campus.

Scotch College principal Dr Alec O’Connell told The West Live last month many parents might not be aware of just how serious a problem e-cigarettes were becoming.

“I just attended a principals in-service for new principals ... and there was quite a bit of talk about it ... so it’s obviously on the rise,” Dr O’Connell said.

In May, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation revealed one in six 12 to 17-year-olds in Australia had tried vaping, with 32 per cent of those students vaping within the past month.

It is currently illegal in WA to sell e-cigarettes, whether or not they contain nicotine, and the chemical flavour cocktails in the pods are not approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for human inhalation.

As of October 1, the TGA will prohibit the importation of nicotine vapes without a doctor’s prescription, but enforcement will remain an issue.

“I don’t want to wait another 30 years for the lung cancer clinic at (Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital) to be full — I’d like to see the action now,” Joanne said.

The Education Department’s Statewide services executive director Martin Clery said public schools provided age-appropriate lessons on harmful substances from pre-primary onwards through the health and physical education curriculum.

“Teachers in all public and non-government schools have access to support provided by the Schools Road Safety and Drug Education branch, funded by the Mental Health Commission,” he said.

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