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Teen vaping is new pandemic, Bolton head teacher warns

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By Jacqueline Paine & Rumeana JahangirBBC Radio Manchester and BBC News

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It is illegal to sell vapes - also known as e-cigarettes - to under-18s

Vaping and the use of e-cigarettes among teenagers has become a "new pandemic", a head teacher has warned.

Tony McCabe, who leads St Joseph's RC High School in Bolton, said staff had seen a rise in young people "acquiring vapes from the black market".

He said his pupils were "no different" from children across the UK and the risks of vaping should be publicised.

The government said it had introduced regulations to protect children and "prevent them from vaping".

The latest data showed that reported usage of e-cigarettes has risen to 9% among 11 to 15-year-olds in England.

Notably, vaping among 15-year-old girls has jumped from 10% in 2018 to 21% in 2021.

NHS advice states that the devices, which allow users to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke, can help adults quit smoking habits, but the vapour can still contain small amounts of chemicals, including nicotine.

Long-term effects remain unknown, although vapes are considered less harmful than smoking cigarettes.

Headteacher Tony McCabe wants more awareness of the risks to be shared with teenagers

While it is illegal to sell vapes to under-18s, a number of students from the Bolton school said usage was now so common, it was hard to find someone who does not vape.

Grace, aged 15, said it was "a regular thing to see".

"Chances are you will bump into someone at the shop vaping," she said.

Her classmate Benedict, 16, said a year ago, it was still "shocking" to see someone vaping, "but it's very common now and peculiar not to vape".

Anna, 16, said most of those she knew who vaped did not see a problem with it because "they're not ill, they've not got cancer, so they're not actually scared yet".

She added that when someone was told off by a teacher for vaping, "it's even more fun to do, because that makes it more like a game".

Mr McCabe said the school was "finding increasing numbers of young people acquiring vapes from the black market".

However, he said the problem was not unique to his school, as "children in this area are no different than children all over the country".

"There is a problem nationally," he said.

"It's a new pandemic that will grow unless we make enough noise… to make sure that young people are not at the centre of that market."

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A Department of Health and Social Care representative said the government had been "clear that children should not use vapes"

Doctors have said that children are being targeted by e-cigarette firms, with bright packaging, exotic flavours and enticing names.

Trading Standards co-ordinator Kate Pike said her colleagues had found retailers selling vapes to under-18s "on many occasions".

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of products coming into the country at the moment which do not comply with the regulations," she said.

"That's not to say they are in any way dangerous… but they're illegal and they shouldn't be sold."

Mr McCabe said the pressures to fit in were "far greater than they have ever been before" and parents should not "assume that their child would know better".

He said the issue of pupils visiting the toilets more often to vape had led him to install sensors in the bathrooms to detect devices.

He added that vape adverts on the back of school buses were not helpful and parents, along with MPs and authorities, must educate children about the risks.

In a statement, a Department of Health and Social Care representative said the government had been "clear that children should not use vapes and have introduced regulations to prevent them from vaping".

"The law protects children from vapes through restricting sales to over 18s only, limiting nicotine content, refill bottle and tank sizes, labelling requirements, and through advertising restrictions," they said.

"Adverts for vapes and their components are prohibited from featuring anything likely to be of particular appeal to people under the age of 18, such as characters or celebrities they would be familiar with."

They added that the department was concerned about the rise in vaping use by children and was exploring a range of measures to address this.

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