Schools cry out for help with children as young as seven vaping

There are concerns that children as young as seven are vaping in New Zealand. And figures suggest up to 25 percent of 15-year-olds vape regularly. 

The Government's revealed it's planning a health campaign targeting young people later in the year, and many hope it'll take a tough stance, like Australia.

St Catherine's College year 13 student, Erin Beamish, says there's a lot of pressure to vape, particularly on social media.

"It's seen as, 'oh, if I don't vape I'm not cool', you know, it's been kind of a trendy thing to do."

And it's becoming increasingly common.

"Twenty to 25 percent of 15-year-olds are vaping regularly," said Life Education Trust CEO, John O’Connell.

And he said some are starting even younger.

"We're hearing reports from principals, as young as seven and eight."

In association with the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation, Life Education Trust has introduced a behind the scenes production to teach young people about the dangers of vaping through theatre.

O'Connell says smoking was all but eradicated among young people but vaping has become a new issue and schools are crying out for support.

"I think the biggest issue is the nicotine addiction. So in Australia, to buy a nicotine vape you need a doctor's prescription, here you buy them at a local dairy. And of course, nicotine, you're talking mental health issues around dependence, you're talking mood swings and anxiety." 

He said New Zealand can learn from Australia. New South Wales Health launched a campaign this year to challenge teen vaping, warning about harmful chemicals, addictiveness, the impact on young brains.

Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall said plans are underway.

"We will be launching a campaign later in the year to make sure young people are aware of the harms of vaping," she said.

"Because we see vaping as a tool for helping people quit smoking, we don't want young people to start vaping straight off the bat."

It's an offence to sell vapes to under-18s, and dairies are limited to selling three unappealing flavours. But retailers have found an easy workaround. By dedicating an area to vapes, they can be classed as a specialist vape store, enabling them to sell any flavour they like.

There are now 661 specialist vape stores in the country - that's double the number of McDonald's and KFCs combined.

Schools want tighter restrictions and better awareness to stop teens vaping now.

"It requires a huge body of evidence before any legislation is put in place to make a change.  We're afraid that by the time that huge body of evidence is collected it'll be too late," said Halina McDonald, deputy principal pastoral at St Catherine’s College

Too late if teens are already addicted.