The misconception vaping is a safer alternative to smoking is proving a challenge for high schools in Central Otago and Wanaka.

Dunstan High School, Cromwell College and Mt Aspiring College all acknowledged vaping among pupils was an ongoing issue, and not limited to the pupils normally considered to be smokers.

Under the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990 vaping has been prohibited on school and early childhood premises since November 11, 2020.

The next stage of the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act 2020 came into effect on May 11, with all schools and early childhood centres required to display no vaping signage.

The Act amends the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990, renaming it to the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990.

Deputy Director of Public Health Dr Harriette Carr said one of the key intents of the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990, and a key commitment of Government, was to ‘‘protect our tamariki, young people and nonsmokers from the risks associated with these products’’.

Central Otago high schools have been proactive at incorporating vaping under existing Smokefree policies. However, they have not curbed the prevalence of vaping.

Dunstan High School principal Reece Goldsmith said the school had started displaying “No vaping” signs alongside its current “No smoking” signage.

“Certainly in the past two years there’s been a noticeable increase in vaping, far beyond what we’ve had with smoking,” he said.

He could not pinpoint one specific reason for the increase in vaping, but said the perception it was safer certainly played a part.

“For some it may be a substitute for cigarettes, for some it’s cool and for some it’s seen to be safer [than smoking].”

“The argument of it’s just kids that would be smoking is not true.

“We have far fewer kids smoking, and it’s not because they’re not being caught.”

“They’re not smoking, they’re vaping,” he said.

The perception of vaping being safer was a false belief, Mr Goldsmith said.

“We know it’s not safe. We just don’t know [precisely] how unsafe it is.”

Mt Aspiring College principal Nicola Jacobsen said education and awareness around the issue of vaping was key, and it was important to involve parents and whanau.

“We know that vaping is not a healthy behaviour.”

“I am genuinely surprised given the information that is available on the dangers of smoking and the health impact it can have, that vaping is seen and marketed as a good or better option than smoking,” she said.

The school had put processes in place regarding pupils caught vaping, which involved educating the pupil and their family of the associated risks.

Cromwell College were actively monitoring pupils and areas such bathrooms closely after pupils in the junior school expressed feeling uncomfortable with older pupils vaping.

Principal Mason Stretch felt schools had been put in a very difficult position by a relaxed government stance on vaping, vaping products and the ease of access of such products for young people.

“Vaping is an issue for some students who are addicted to the products are now nicotine-based feel it is a cool thing to do,” he said.

“We also need whanau support to address what is a community issue.”

Not all schools had the same issue with vaping, however. Roxburgh Area School principal Paul McDowall said vape use at the school was “negligible”.

A lack of accessibility to vaping devices in Roxburgh coupled with a no-tolerance culture towards vaping was credited with keeping the issue at bay.

“Like many things in society where an early adapter tries something others often follow, good or bad.

“In our case, issues like vaping etc haven’t established a foothold that allows a culture of acceptance or normalcy to take hold,” he said.

A Maniototo Area School staff member echoed those sentiments, saying vaping was not an issue with the Ranfurly school.