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Vaping in schools is a growing problem that poses significant safeguarding challenges. Learn about the issues and new ways to detect it.

Vaping in schools in the UK has become a serious problem in recent years.

7% of secondary school pupils vape regularly, which represents a 100% increase in child vaping year-on-year. No less than 29% of year 11 pupils have tried vaping, according to official figures.

As e-cigarettes have become more popular among young people, it has become increasingly common for children to vape in school toilets and other hidden areas. This poses significant challenges for safeguarding and creates a range of problems that schools must address.

The challenges of stopping vaping in schools

One of the biggest challenges with vaping in schools is that it can be difficult to detect. E-cigarettes produce little smoke, and the vapour quickly dissipates, making it hard for teachers and staff to know if a student is vaping. This is compounded by the fact that e-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes, most of which pupils can easily hide in their pocket or backpack.

The health and safeguarding risks

The dangers of vaping in schools are significant. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can have harmful effects on developing brains. Some do not, but they come in fruit or other flavours designed to appeal to children and are arguably even more harmful than nicotine, being filled with carcinogenic and highly toxic chemicals. There is also a risk that students may experiment with other substances, such as marijuana, by vaping them in e-cigarettes. Additionally, the act of vaping itself can be a distraction from learning and may disrupt the educational environment as some children sneak out of class during lessons to vape in school toilets.

Moreover, vaping in schools poses serious safeguarding issues. Young people who are using e-cigarettes are at risk of becoming addicted to nicotine, which can have lifelong consequences. They may also be vulnerable to exploitation by older students or outside individuals who provide them with e-cigarettes or other substances. Schools must take steps to prevent and address these risks to safeguard their students’ wellbeing.

Every school needs clear anti-vaping policies

To address the issue of vaping in schools, it is important for schools to have clear policies in place that prohibit the use of e-cigarettes on school grounds. Teachers and staff should be trained to recognize the signs of vaping and know how to respond appropriately when they suspect a student is using an e-cigarette. Parents and students should also be educated about the risks of vaping and the school’s policies on e-cigarette use.

Support with forming a school policy on vaping

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is a public health charity set up by the Royal College of Physicians to end the harm caused by smoking tobacco and vaping. ASH has released new national guidance for schools, to support staff in developing their policies on vaping. This was developed by a group of teachers with expertise in safeguarding and health education.

New technology makes it possible to detect vaping in schools

Recently, new surveillance products have come onto the UK market that make it easy to stop vaping in schools. They use CCTV with AI capabilities. Vape sensors inside school toilets detect chemicals and particles that are released into the air when pupils are vaping in school. These sensors detect the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerol, PM2.5 particulate matter and other cancer-causing chemicals.

AI enhanced CCTV cameras outside the toilet record who enters and leaves, and the Artificial Intelligence matches up the signals. Staff can then see the live reports or, more conveniently, get instant SMS, email or MS Teams alerts telling them there is a pupil or pupils vaping in the school toilets.

Useful links

CCTV with artificial intelligence stops vaping in schools

ASH guidance on developing school policies on vaping

Research and analysis: Nicotine vaping in England: 2022 evidence update summary (Government website)