From Mr McMullen

While I usually write to parents with the purpose of highlighting the many great activities on the go at school, this week I want to share a few details in relation to a growing concern for all schools. That is the increasing use of e-cigarettes (or vapes) and risk of harm they pose for young people.

I had the opportunity to attend a police-principal’s forum in Liverpool last month and the topic of vapes was the key agenda item. Unfortunately, we have had to respond to incidents of students possessing or using vapes at school. So, I want to write to provide information about vapes, bust some myths, and ask for your vigilance. We take this matter seriously due to the negative impacts that vaping can have on the health of your sons and daughters.

What are vapes?

Also known as cuvies, stigs and vapes, an e-cigarette is in simple terms a device that heats a flavoured liquid (popular flavours include strawberry, watermelon, peach and creme brulee) to an aerosol which can be inhaled. The device can be disposable, or it can be reusable by refilling the device with e-liquid or a pod (containing e-liquid). Recent data shows an increase in use of e-cigarettes over the past three years, with one in five students aged 16–17, trying e-cigarettes. However, the police have noted that it is a concern for younger students also.

How do they work?

E-cigarettes produce an aerosol by using a battery to heat a liquid. The liquid used in e-cigarettes is made up of flavours, chemicals and often contains nicotine. Users inhale e-cigarette aerosol into their lungs. Bystanders can also breathe in this aerosol when the user exhales it into the air.

What do they look like?

E-cigarettes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They can be as small as a USB and even look like one, they can also look like pens, highlighters or cigarettes. Often, they are brightly coloured and so look attractive to children.

Why are they unsafe?

E-cigarette liquid is made up of different chemicals. These chemicals can include:

Nicotine (although illegal without a prescription in Australia, many disposable devices that youth are using contain nicotine.)

Flavourings such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease

Volatile organic compounds

Cancer-causing chemicals

Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead

Published research by Curtin University about the analysis of the contents of e cigarette liquid found six out of ten ‘nicotine-free’ e-cigarette liquids contained nicotine as well as an acutely toxic chemical typically found in pesticides and disinfectants. None of the test liquids provided accurate ingredient lists.

Effects of nicotine on youth:

Nicotine can harm the developing teenage brain. The brain keeps developing until about age 25.

Using nicotine as a teenager can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.

Each time a new memory is created, or a new skill is learned, stronger connections – or synapses – are built between brain cells. Young people’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Nicotine changes the way these synapses are formed.

Using nicotine as a teenager may also increase risk for future addiction to other drugs.

What are the myths?

MYTH: E-cigarettes and vaping are harmless.
E-cigarettes do not generate smoke in the same way regular cigarettes do so they might seem safer. However, many of the chemicals in the ‘flavoured’ e-liquids have the potential to negatively impact the health of users and others inhaling the vapour. Additionally, many people order e-cigarettes online from overseas, in which case product labelling is not regulated.

MYTH: There is no link between e-cigarettes use and starting smoking regular cigarettes.
Studies have also shown that kids who use e-cigarettes are more likely than their peers to go on to smoke cigarettes. E-cigarette use familiarises users to traditional smoking behaviours such as inhalation, exhalation, and even holding a cigarette. This means that even if young people use e-cigarettes without the nicotine, the smoking-related behaviours they pick up make it more likely they will transition to cigarette smoking.

MYTH: E-cigarettes are an effective way to help quit smoking cigarettes.

There is not enough evidence to support e-cigarettes as a product to assist smokers to quit. Smokers who would like to quit should consult their doctors or call the Quitline.

What is the law?

It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes or accessories to people under the age of 18.

It is illegal to display, advertise or promote e-cigarettes.

The sale and use of e-liquid nicotine, including in e-cigarettes, is against the law.

What is the school’s position on vapes?

Vapes are strictly prohibited at school and are considered a prohibited drug.

The use, possession, sharing or supply of drugs and drug paraphernalia by students is strictly prohibited. The school stands for a sound, healthy lifestyle for the individual and is also conscious of its image and reputation in the community. Violation of this requirement will be treated seriously, and offending students may be suspended or expelled. 

What can I do as a parent?

The KEY is talking about e-cigarettes with your child, preparing yourself with the facts and role modelling with a smoke and e-cigarette free environment. KEY considerations for talking about e-cigarettes:

K: Know the facts or where to find them from a reputable source

E: Engage on the topic in a relaxed and easy way. Use the cues around you, a person using a device, a story on the news as the way into the conversation and the way to keep talking about it ongoing.

Y: You know your child, communicate with them in ways that work for you and allow you to provide them with the right information to make healthy decisions.

If you become aware of a local business selling e-cigarettes to people under 18 years of age, please contact the police.

We take the health and safety of our students seriously and seek to continue in partnership with our families to prevent harm caused by using e-cigarettes and exposure to nicotine.

In His service

Keith McMullen


 Cancer Council NSW e-cigarette fact sheet

NSW Health Electronic cigarettes