CHULMLEIGH College’s Executive Headteacher, Michael Johnson, has recently written to parents highlighting the national, and local, vaping epidemic, which is particularly prevalent amongst 15 and 16-year olds.

Mr Johnson said: “I felt it was important to inform families about the growing problem with vaping, and to share information about how this is affecting children.

“Vaping is marketed as a ‘harmless’ alternative to cigarettes, however research is beginning to show that e-cigarettes contain chemicals which have been linked to lung and heart disease, and there are also concerns that vaping is becoming a lifestyle choice, which could create an epidemic of nicotine addiction in children and teenagers.”

E-cigarettes heat up a flavoured liquid, allowing people to inhale nicotine as a vapour rather than tobacco smoke.

They are cheaper than tobacco smoking and easier to get hold of than cigarettes. A packet of 20 cigarettes is now more than £10, e-cigarettes are a fraction of the cost.

How is this affecting children?

“The Times” reported recently that one in 10 secondary school pupils now vape, and there has been a disproportionate increase in teenage girls taking up the habit.

The NHS has reported that nine per cent of 11-15-year olds in England say they frequently use e-cigarettes, up from six per cent three years ago. This increase has been driven by a surge in vaping among girls, with one-in-five 15-year-old girls using e-cigarettes; twice the rate of 2018.

Overall, nationally, 10 per cent of girls vape, compared with seven per cent of boys and about half of these are classed as “regular” users who vape at least once a week.

In 2015, the Government first regulated e-cigarettes, banning the sale or marketing of vapes to all under-18s.

Mr Johnson said he thinks the Government should now do more.

“The Times” report found most children can buy them from shops, with 41 per cent going to the newsagent to buy vapes.

These products are openly aimed at schoolchildren. Flavours include “pink lemonade”, “strawberry”, “banana” and “mango” and some vapes are sold as “puff bars”.

Mr Johnson emphasised: “Many vapes are disposable and the companies involved in this seem to be trying to profit from providing a highly addictive substance to impressionable children. This situation is, to put it politely, unacceptable.”

What are the health risks?

“The Times” also reported that roughly one in every eight of those diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK - about 6,000 people a year - have never smoked.

Mr Johnson continued: “Scientists have long been puzzled why these non-smokers tend to have tumours with a very different genetic profile. Recent evidence suggests the process that causes the tumours differs from that of tobacco-caused cancer.

“Findings show that air pollution and other irritants are to blame.

“They cause inflammation and then a healing process that ‘wakes up’ dormant cells that carry cancer-causing mutations. We all know that the impact on a person’s health of inhaling smoke can take years to emerge and therefore it is highly likely that we do not yet understand the impact of e-cigarettes on human health.

“Smoking tobacco cigarettes is not a problem at the College, but we do now have a problem emerging with e-cigarettes; particularly amongst some of our older girls.

“We are proud to be a school that has successfully created an environment where our children can grow up without being contaminated by some of the influences which are harder to counteract in urban areas.

“We are determined to protect our children and do our best to keep them away from e-cigarettes. We will not ignore this.

“During Personal, Social, Health and Education curriculum (PSHE) lessons this half-term we will be covering the dangers of vaping.

“For our pupils in school time, or when in school uniform, smoking a vape, being with people who are smoking e-cigarettes, carrying an e-cigarette vape or passing an e-cigarette to someone else is a significant breach of our behaviour code. Pupils who do this risk suspension or permanent exclusion should they do it repeatedly.

“This problem is being ignored by society as a whole, and we are trying to do our bit to inform families, and educate pupils, about the potential damage to their health.”