Schools have been asked to ensure their policies on vaping are 'robust' by the Department of Health and Social Care

How do schools get through the fog?

High schools resort to random searches, ban children from using toilets and hand out time-bound exceptions to eliminate vaping.

The Department of Health and Social Care this week demanded that schools ensure that their policies on vaping are “strong” and that the penalties imposed on pupils are “proportionate”.

The data was posted by NHS Digital Earlier this month, the proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds classified as current e-cigarette users showed an increase to 9 percent in 2021, up from 6 percent in 2018.

While the proportion of smokers in the same age group has dropped to 3 percent, the research also indicates that one in five 15-year-old girls uses e-cigarettes.

School principals say the number of children smoking e-cigarettes at school has increased since buildings reopened after Covid.

It is illegal in the UK to sell such products to people under 18. The long-term health effects of vaping are relatively unknown.

Schools take a hard line

At All Saints Catholic College in Kensington, west London, pupils have been excluded from vaping in the workplace or in uniform for a fixed term.

Paul Walton, the school’s new vice president, says it was routine at his former school to confiscate e-cigarettes from teens.

The problem, he says, is that school policy is not “strict enough” and the perception that vaping is “not that dangerous.”

Last school year, All Saints suspended 18 students for vaping, although the number dropped in the spring and summer.

“We believe this is due to the strong position we have taken as a school and the message that students and families have taken from this,” Walton says.

At Richard Challoner School in New Malden, Surrey, three students received exceptions for two set days last year after they were caught smoking e-cigarettes.

Shawn Maher, the school’s principal, says the problem became more acute after the children returned from home learning because they had lost their “understanding of boundaries and expectations.”

The school’s opinions did not budge. “We’ve always had a consistent rule in our school that, if you get stuck with a smoking material, you will get disqualified for a fixed duration. So, to me, that should be the same as for vaping.”

Random searches and vape screens

The lack of comprehensive guidance on how schools should approach this issue has led to disparities.

Andrea O’Neill, head of Alsager School in Stoke-on-Trent, told parents in May that the school would “continue to conduct random searches and if we find prohibited items [such as vapes]We will issue severe penalties, such as suspension or alternative sentencing.”

government guidance Authorized school personnel are allowed to search pupils, even without their consent, where they have “reasonable grounds to suspect that a pupil may have a prohibited substance.” This includes any item prohibited by school rules.

In one school, where the head of the school wants to remain anonymous, the suspensions of the most serious offenders who smoke openly in the classroom are kept.

“It’s just incredibly disrespectful,” they said, adding that it happened three times in the past school year.

Those caught outside the classroom face fewer penalties, including confiscation. Last year, the number of vapes that ended up in the head drawer was “in the dozens”.

Pupils face a ban on using toilets

About 45 miles away at St Edward’s College in Liverpool, students found that vaping in the face of toilets was forbidden from using blocks and instead had them use accessible toilets for individual use.

“We are also investigating the installation of vape monitors for student restrooms to alert CCTV any time a vape is being used,” Stephen Morris, principal of the school, said in a newsletter to parents in January.

“CCTV [is then] Able to tell which pupil was there when they came out of the toilet.”

This was part of the schools “resisting the spread of ‘vaping’ among most girls in years 9 to 11.”

Said Nick Potter, director at the Security Center that specializes in alarms in Lancashire School week That demand from schools has led them to consider expanding the range of vape detectors.

“People who ring say they have a big problem with vaping in general in the restrooms and it seems to be on the rise,” he says.

But the model the company is currently stocking – the Verkada SV11 environmental sensor – retails for more than £1,000. “When you have a lot of toilets where pupils can smoke, it gets a little expensive. We sold about ten,” Potter says.

Electronic smoking – vaping – a bigger problem than smoking

The problem is not limited to toilets, with many school leaders saying pupils smoke e-cigarettes on their way to school.

Maher believes that vaping is now “more of a problem than it was or is” because it is more conservative.

When people smoke, you can tell them right away and it’s very hard to hide. But if someone smokes e-cigarettes, it’s hard to detect.”

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), says the recent increase in the number of students vaping could be due to the introduction of more disposable models, such as the Elf Bar and Geek Bar.

“There has been an explosion in sales of new disposable e-cigarettes that are very cheap, easy to obtain and easy to use. Certainly that seems to be where the growth has been,” says Deborah Arnott, CEO of the group.

Figures from ASH’s YouGov survey conducted in March of this year show that single-use e-cigarettes are now the most used product among young vapers, rising from 7 percent in 2020 to 52 percent in 2022.

Because they’re smaller and produce less vapor, “they’re easier for kids to hide and use discreetly,” she says.

How problematic is that?

The current understanding of the health effects remains unclear.

Many presidents say the relative lack of longitudinal studies makes them concerned about unknown potential “risks.”

E-cigarettes are promoted as a smoking cessation tool by the NHS, which advises that they are not risk-free, but carry a small portion of the risks of cigarettes. There is no current evidence to suggest that vaping poses a risk to others.

While schools are committed to banning such items, prohibiting their sale to those under 18, opinions differ on whether that also disrupts learning.

“It’s not that it’s disruptive, it’s that it undermines school rules,” Walton says.

Ofsted also sees it as a behavioral problem. During last inspection From Longfield Academy in Darlington, the inspector noted that school records indicate “ongoing challenging behavior” across the school’s website.

She said, “This includes vaping, fighting between pupils and absenteeism. The school has been rated as ‘inappropriate’.”

What does the guidance say?

An email from the Department of Education to chiefs on Wednesday read: “Vaping is to help people quit smoking and should not be used by people under 18 or non-smokers—particularly since long-term harms are not known. It should. Policies should be strong, and sanctions be proportionate.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has asked schools to review their policies, paying particular attention to new guidance from ASH.

But her perspective contrasts with schools that have already embraced the principle of zero tolerance.

Among other things, the department advises leaders: “Children should not be excluded from school for vaping or smoking, unless it is associated with other disruptive behavior that justifies it.”

Arnott says sending a child home won’t necessarily stop them from vaping. “The other danger is if you demonize something, you actually enchant it as well.”

The Ministry of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are clear that vaping should only be used to help people quit smoking – vaping should not be used by children, young adults or non-smokers.”

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