Vaping and schools

The reality is that more young people are trying vaping. Here’s what we know from research about young people and vaping in New Zealand:

  • Results from the New Zealand 2018 Youth Insights Survey (a nationally representative survey of Year 10 students, predominately aged 14 and 15 years) showed that 2% of students were daily vapers, 8% of students were current vapers (vaped at least monthly), and 61% of students had never vaped. 
  • Young people are experimenting with vaping, and those who try vaping are also those who are more likely to try smoking at a later time. However, it is not possible to say from current evidence that vaping causes people to smoke.
  • Smoking rates for both adults and young people are continuing to drop in New Zealand. There is no evidence that vaping is normalising smoking.
  • New Zealand youth smoking rates continue to decline and daily use of vaping devices is rare and is largely confined to those who have smoked.

Vaping and the law

Under the Smoke-free Environments Act schools, kura kaupapa, early childhood education centres, and kōhanga reo must be smokefree - indoors and out, 24/7.

The Government is working to put legislation in place to ensure vaping products are accessible to those who need them to stop smoking while protecting children and young people. The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill was introduced to Parliament on 23 February 2020. Read the Ministry of Health’s factsheet Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill to find out more about the proposed changes.

The following points pertain to the law as it currently stands (as of October 2019):

  • It is an offence to sell nicotine vaping products to young people aged under 18.
  • The ban on smoking in indoor workplaces, early childhood centres and schools only applies to smoking, and not to vaping or products that are not smoked.
  • Vaping and heated tobacco products may be legally imported, sold and distributed in New Zealand.
  • Individual employers and business owners can decide whether or not to include vaping in their policies.

In the meantime, schools, kura kaupapa, early childhood education centres, and kōhanga reo can still take action to protect children and young people from vaping.

What school leaders can do

Know the facts

The Vaping Facts website has easy to understand information about vaping, and the most up-to-date, relevant research about vaping and smoking in New Zealand. It is brought to you by the Ministry of Health and the Health Promotion Agency/Te Hiringa Hauora (HPA).

  • Know the facts, key messages, and myths surrounding vaping. The Vaping Facts website is the best place to go to for evidence-based information written for New Zealanders.
  • Start by finding out what you already know - or think you know - by taking the quiz
  • Watch this four minute video.

It talks about some facts in a light, natural way, and addresses some of the myths.

If you have a bit more time, this video is very good. New Zealand Professor Hayden McRobbie provides information on how vaping works, the long terms effects, and what the law says.

Read 'Is Youth Vaping a Problem in New Zealand?' - a post by some New Zealand public health experts that explores possible explanations for the sometimes contradictory reports and perceptions about youth vaping.

Read the New Zealand Health Education Association’s article on vaping in the December 2019 issue of Hauora Matters. Share the link with your teachers of health education.

Review your current school tobacco policy, school rules, or procedures

Because all schools, by law, must be Smokefree 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they do not need to have a smokefree policy. However, if they choose to be vape free, they should make their position clear in either a policy or procedural guidelines.

The guidelines could include a statement on the school’s position on vaping, and then outline procedural details such as:

  • Vaping at school events that are not held on school grounds (for example sporting, arts, and cultural events, and education activities outside the classroom).
  • How messages on the school’s vaping position will be conveyed to students, their parents and whānau, staff, and visitors to the school.
  • What students can expect from health education about vaping.
  • What nicotine addiction support the school is able to provide students.
  • How vape devices will be dealt with if a student brings one to school. 

Develop staff understanding

Ensure the staff are aware of the key messages:

  • The best thing you can do for your health is be smokefree and vape free.
  • Vaping is not for children or young people.
  • Vaping can help some people quit smoking.
  • Vaping is not harmless but it is much less harmful than smoking.
  • Vaping is not for non-smokers.

Build your team’s knowledge about vaping - run a staff information session.

  • Start by having the staff complete the Vaping Facts quiz (copy the questions as a handout so that the staff can go through and record the questions they got right or wrong – don’t give them the explanations yet). This will determine their baseline knowledge.
  • Show this four minute video. It talks about some facts in a light natural way, and addresses some of the myths.
  • Ask the staff to have a look through the website (either on their own or in small groups). Doing it in a staff information session means that staff get to see and read it there and then (as opposed to in their own time, when many may not have the time). The facts on this page are key messages for educators and parents.
  • Have the staff go through the quiz again, this time, using the online version, so that the answers and explanation come up. Hopefully by the time they have watched the videos and had discussions they will get all the answers correct.
  • Encourage your staff to watch Professor Hayden McRobbie’s video. It provides clear explanations on a number of the facts that a range of things that teachers might need to know – particularly before talking to students about vaping.
  • Ensure the staff are aware of the school’s policy, school rules, and procedures regarding vaping.

Support parents understanding

  • the school’s tobacco policy, school rules, and procedures with parents and whānau.
  • Use your school’s social media, website, or newsletters to promote the Vaping Facts website as the go-to website for relevant and up-to-date information, when communicating to parents about vaping.
  • Acknowledge that many parents and whānau may be vaping to quit smoking, and that is to be supported/encouraged.
  • Promote the services that parents can contact to find support for their child who want to stop vaping. Find your local stop smoking service or contact Quitline.
  • Encourage parents to talk to their children about vaping. The How to talk to your teen page has some useful tips about finding the right moment and suggestions about what to ask and how to respond. Share the link in your school’s newsletter, website, and social media sites.

Support all students

  • While some students will have tried vaping (a third of Year 10 students reported having tried an e-cigarette (even a single puff or vape), fewer than 2% of Year 10 students reported using e-cigarettes daily1.
  • Include vaping just as you would include other substances in teaching and learning programmes focused on reducing harm from the use of alcohol and/or other drugs. The New Zealand Health Education Association’s article on vaping in the December 2019 issue of Hauora Matters has some ideas for teaching and learning activities.
  • Use the teaching and learning activities from Staying Smokefree to promote self-reliance, understand and deal with peer pressure, and addiction. Just swap out ‘tobacco’ and ‘cigarettes’ for ‘vaping’, where appropriate.
  • Provide support for those who are wanting to quit vaping, or who are vaping to quit smoking. This could be through inviting a quit service to run clinic in the school, a member of staff running a support group at lunch time, or promoting local quit services.
  • Ensure the students are aware of the school’s policy, school rules, and procedures regarding vaping.

Support your school-based health services

  • Invite the school-based health service staff to your staff information session on vaping.
  • Ensure they are familiar with the content on the Vaping Facts website.
  • Ensure the staff are aware of the school’s policy, school rules, and procedures regarding vaping.
  • Involve them in discussions and decisions about what school-based quit services, groups and support the school could offer students.