Vaping in School: The Dangers

by Fraser Saunders

Vaping is becoming more popular among young people, leading to an increase in students vaping while on school premises. Private places like toilet blocks and changing rooms are ideal as they are difficult for staff to monitor, but most children do not understand the dangers they are facing by vaping.


Increasing Numbers of Children are Vaping

The number of young people using e-cigarettes is rising at worrying rates – More than twice as many 11-17 year olds were current users in 2022 compared to a year before, with over 40% having tried vaping by the age of 18. Despite it being illegal to sell e-cigarettes containing nicotine to under 18s, flavours such as Cotton Candy and Lemon Tart packaged with bright colours appeal to young people, with trading standards reporting that staff in many shops are not aware of age verification requirements and often online sales are available without verification.


Health Effects of Children Vaping

Although often used as a tool to help smokers quit, vapes are not without their own dangers, especially in children as their bodies are still developing.

The physical health risks associated with children vaping:

  • 2x likelihood to suffer from a chronic cough
  • Reduced function of the lungs
  • Lowered immunity
  • Increased risk of respiratory infection
  • Significant association with gum disease

But it’s not just physical health that can be affected by children smoking. Adolescents are more susceptible than adults to nicotine addiction, and chronic nicotine exposure can impact brain development. This can advance cognitive and attention deficit conditions as well as worsening mood disorders, including depression and suicidal thoughts.


Illegal Vapes Contain Dangerous Chemicals

Twice the safe daily amount of lead, and nine times the safe amount of nickel, have been found in vapes confiscated from school pupils. The BBC recently reported that these illegal vapes taken from students have not been through any kind of testing before being sold in the UK. The metals lead, nickel, and chromium are produced by the heating element, but were also all found within the e-liquid alongside carbonyl compounds which break down to produce formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

University of Nottingham epidemiology professor John Britton, member of the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Group, explained that “Lead is a neurotoxin and impairs brain development, chrome and nickel are allergens and metal particles in general in the bloodstream can trigger blood clotting and can exacerbate cardiovascular disease,”

“The carbonyls are mildly carcinogenic and so with sustained use will increase the risk of cancer – but in legal products, the levels of all of these things is extremely low so the lifetime risk to the individual is extremely small.”

These illegal e-cigarettes used by children are commonly referred to as “highlighter vapes” due to their bright colours and are often difficult to distinguish from their legal counterparts.


Antisocial Effects of Young People Vaping

The use of vapes among young people is increasingly associated with social status among peer groups, and popular social media creators showing their usage increases exposure and normalises the habit. School toilets are the perfect place for children to vape as they are difficult for staff to monitor, with changing rooms being a second favourite.


How to Combat Students Vaping at School

In order to tackle the sale of illegal vapes in England, the government has allocated £3 million to fund more test purchases and remove the products from shelves. However, schools need to take more direct action to stop pupils using e-cigarettes on their grounds. Education about the dangers of vaping should be coupled with deterrents and strict reprimands.

Smart sensors installed in toilet blocks are the most effective way to deter and detect vaping. These devices have sensors to detect e-cigarette vapour and can instantly alert staff by SMS, email, or mobile app notification. They can also be paired with cameras in corridors to identify offending students through contextual event analysis.


Learn more about using smart sensors to detect vaping in schools, or speak to our team to learn more about how to protect children from the effects of vaping.

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