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Schools’ Experiences with Youth Vaping

A University of Melbourne study into educator’s perceptions of vapes found after surveying 218 school staff [1]:

  • 46% of school staff had found a vape on campus at least monthly
  • 36% of principals had suspended or expelled students at least monthly
  • 93% said it was becoming a problem in secondary schools and were concerned about use by students
  • 51% had a vape policy in place
  • the biggest barriers to enforcement were the discreet nature of e-cigarettes and difficulty in locating where the vapour came from

The results highlight the extreme disruption vaping is presenting for schools on a day to day basis. Moreover, it highlights a need for schools and parents to educate their students about the dangers and risks of vaping.

What are schools doing to try to manage vaping?

  • implementing vape-smoke detectors, at the reported cost of $15,000 – $25,000 [3]
  • locking or removing bathroom doors, or requesting an access card to use the bathroom – seen to be a drastic measure by some parents [4]
  • suspending or expelling students [1]
  • banning aerosol deodorants which break the vape-smoke detectors (as reported by one of our school clients)

While some schools may be punishing students for vaping to manage the disruptions that vaping is causing schools, a harm minimisation approach such as diverting students to evidence-based prevention programs and interventions has been shown to be more effective in preventing and reducing harm . [2] Australia’s broader policy is harm minimisation, meaning that part of prevention is acknowledging that substance use does happen, we seek to minimise the harms. Below are some practical strategies on how to manage vaping in schools, following a harm minimisation approach.

How to Tackle Vaping in Schools: Some tips from Matilda Centre’s Vaping expert, Dr. Emily Stockings

Positive Choices webinar link

  1. Arm yourself with the facts so you can have frank, non-judgmental conversations.
  2. Start a conversation. See tips on how to talk to kids here.
  3. Listen with patience
  4. Convey expectations: why you don’t want them to vape, why you are concerned about the risks to their brain, lungs, their future well-being
  5. Identify alternate strategies – Ask what might work for them? Ask them to self-reflect on vaping patterns to identify vaping triggers and develop a coping strategy or replacement behaviour eg. having a breath mint or glass of water, change routines, exercise, chat to a friend etc, or if you suspect nicotine dependence it may be appropriate to try nicotine replacement therapy (patches, spray, gum) to assist with symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
  6. Start a peer-led conversation in class for example what worries you about vaping? What do you think about vaping? What would you say if someone offered you a vape? (practising refusal skills in class)
  7. Other exercises such as recognising tobacco industry manipulation. Try it here.
  8. Developing a quit plan. Tips on how to get started.
  9. Seeking help from a GP, Quitline or Psychologist. Tips on how to get help  and discourage kids from smoking and vaping.

In short, vaping is a huge burden on schools and the quality of education that is being delivered. Vaping only compounds the significant mental health challenges facing today’s youth and the development of their adolescent brains.

Schools desperately need better tools and resources to help prevent students from vaping before nicotine dependence sets in, while also supporting them to quit through non-judgmental conversations and strategies.

Support don’t punish nicotine dependence!


[1] Educators’ perceptions of e-cigarettes in Australian secondary schools


[3] Educator Online

[4] Yahoo

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