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Calls grow for vape regulations

A petition is being presented to parliament next week calling for stronger regulation to limit young people’s access to vapes.

The Times-Age has previously covered growing community concern over the number of students vaping in the region’s schools, with one principal calling it “a continuous battle”.

A local parent [who wished to stay anonymous] has since told the Times-Age that the situation is so extreme at their teenager’s school that bathrooms have turned into coveted vape-hangout spots.

The parent said their child – who has a chronic medical condition requiring quick access to bathrooms throughout the day – runs into issues with groups of students vaping in and directly outside the toilet cubicles, removing any privacy.

“My teenager therefore tries to avoid the toilets, or even comes home if they are feeling unwell,” the parent said.

“The situation is totally unacceptable, as it places stress on those who genuinely need the facilities.”

Although the school in question has stood down students caught vaping, the parent said the problem continues to linger like strawberry-flavoured vapor.

“Whether it be a private or public school, this problem is across the board, and there are obviously issues preventing staff from taking firmer action, especially in toilet facilities,” they said.

“Vaping, like mobile phones, seems to be the norm in our teenagers’ lives.”

Another local parent [who also wished to stay anonymous] with a child in year 11 said they are deeply concerned by the prevalence of vapes.

“It’s just all around the school, and they don’t even go and try to hide it,” they said.

“They just shove them up their sleeves and take a puff when they want to.”

The parent said they were told by their child of a classroom challenge to vape behind the teacher’s back, blow out a large cloud, and then feign ignorance as it’s difficult to assign the rising cloud to a culprit.

“I actually feel really sorry for the schools because it’s a huge issue.”

The parent said their 16-year-old child, who is asthmatic and doesn’t vape, is surrounded by other students’ vape clouds at school.

Despite their child’s asthma, the parent said they are still concerned that their child will pick up the habit in a moment of clouded judgement.

“They’ve said to me, ‘Oh this flavour smells so nice, I’d love to try it’,” the parent said.

“For the non-vapers, they smell so good that they’re like, ‘That would be a really cool thing to be able to taste, like a new flavour of bubble gum’.”

With the “majority of the school vaping”, the parent doesn’t see how it can be brought under control.

The parent said they are aware of another parent who is selling vapes to students, as well as siblings exchanging them, and they believe many vape retailers don’t check for identification.

“The schools are trying to regulate it, and they’ll tell you they have it under control, but they don’t,” they said.

“How can the schools stamp it out when the students aren’t even going to a shop and getting them, when other people are supporting it?”

Other parents believe stronger government regulation is the answer.

Vape Free Kids New Zealand [VFK NZ], a grassroots group fighting for more action preventing harm to youth from vaping, will present two petitions with over 12,000 signatures in an effort to persuade politicians to introduce tougher measures that address the “alarming rate of youth vaping”.

The government announced new vaping regulations in June to prevent new vape retailers from opening within 300 metres of a school or marae, limit disposable vape sales, and restrict the marketing of “fun, descriptive flavours”.

But VFK NZ spokesperson Charyl Robinson said these new rules leave open loopholes.

“They will continue to allow [already established] dairies and supermarkets to sell vapes right next door to our schools,” Robinson said.

“On top of that, disposables with removable batteries will still be cheaply and easily accessible to children.”

The petitions will be presented to health select committee chair Tracey McLellan on Wednesday next week.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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