Auckland high school principal calls on Government to get tough on vaping 'epidemic'

An Auckland secondary principal says vaping is an epidemic in New Zealand schools, and wants the Government to get tough on it. 

Auckland Grammar School principal Tim O'Connor says half his junior students either own a vape or have tried it.

He says vaping ads are seductive and contribute to what he calls the "biggest pressure facing teens since the Marlboro cigarette campaigns of the 1970s".

And while the Government's planning to change the Smokefree Environment Act next month, he says principals are worried it won't go far enough. 

"These are the latest devices, e-cigarettes, that've been confiscated from boys in the last week or so," says O'Connor.

They are sleek, fun-looking and far too alluring, and O'Connor says he has had a gutful. 

"I'd describe it as an epidemic," he says.

The principal has stood down a dozen boys in recent weeks for vaping in school toilets and on the grounds, and he's not the only principal to do so.

"Our young men now are becoming quite cavalier," says O'Connor. "You wouldn't see a cigarette around here but you're seeing the use of these devices because I think they see them as acceptable."

With over 7000 flavours now, vaping and e-cigarettes are not new but the explosion of ads is.

And that worries health officials too, who agree teens are being sucked in.

"It's a 'watch this space' and we won't know the full effects of this for 10 or 20 years," says Professor Scott Harding, of the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation.

The foundation says until the Government regulates vaping products and ads, and requires testing of the toxicity of chemicals in flavoured e-liquids, we're flying blind.

"We are seeing new evidence emerge every week really. For example, this week a new paper came out looking at the cardiovascular effects of vaping, showing vaping even without nicotine is associated with inflammation of the blood vessel wall," says Professor Harding.

Juul makes the most popular e-cigarette products in the world, but they maintain their product is safe.

"I can't imagine we had the data to support that we're selling a product that is damaging to the American public and we had that data that we'd continue to sell that product," says Juul's chief executive Kevin Burns.

And while studies suggest vaping is less harmful than tobacco, the Government is looking to amend laws next month to bring vaping regulations into line with tobacco.

In particular, they are looking at setting maximum levels of nicotine, improving labelling, prohibiting vaping ads, and requiring products to be sold from behind the counter. 

O'Connor says schools can get as tough as they like with vapers, but until society does too it'll continue to become New Zealand's next big addiction.