Children as young as five are reportedly being caught up in the vaping explosion that has taken off across the country in recent years.
The use of e-cigarettes has become so prolific among young Aussies that the government has been forced to introduce a major crackdown in a bid to break the dangerous habit.
Principal and deputy president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council, Christine Del Gallo, said she first noticed the use of vapes among schoolchildren about three years ago and, since then, the issue has grown “exponentially”.
“They are very, very dangerous products for our teenagers and young children,” she told Nine’s A Current Affair.
Ms Del Gallo claimed there had been research done that showed, in some schools, 80 per cent of students were vaping.
Deputy president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council, Christine Del Gallo, said even kindergarteners have been caught up in the vaping trend. Picture: A Current Affair/Channel 9
Even more shockingly, she also revealed “there is evidence that primary school students down to kindergarten children are vaping”.
“They’re vaping at school, they’re vaping outside of school. They may have them in their bedroom drawers at home and are vaping at home,” she said.
“It’s become, exponentially, a really serious problem and it’s across the whole state.”
Her comments came after the Federal government announced the biggest crackdown on e-cigarettes in Australian is set to be unveiled in the May budget.
Under current laws, vapes with nicotine can only be bought with a prescription from a chemist.
But that hasn’t stopped thousands of convenience stores and online providers sneakily providing these same products to children.
Under the new laws, single-use vapes will be banned, different flavours and colourful packaging will be prohibited, as will the importation of non-prescription vapes.
The allowed nicotine concentrations and volumes will also be reduced and pharmaceutical-like packaging will be required.
Health Minister Mark Butler said it was clear that governments had to act.
Vaping has become rampant among Australian kids. Picture: iStock
“Vaping was sold to governments and communities around the world as a therapeutic product to help long-term smokers quit,” he said.
“It was not sold as a recreational product – especially not one for our kids. But that is what it has become: the biggest loophole in Australian history.”
Mr Butler said one in six teenagers aged 14-17 had vaped, while claiming it has also become widespread among primary schools.
“Over the past 12 months, Victoria’s poisons hotline has taken 50 calls about children under 4 becoming sick from ingesting or using a vape,” he said.
“Under the age of 4! Vapes contain 200 toxic chemicals that do not belong in the lungs, the same chemicals you’ll find in nail polish remover and weed killer.”
Ms Del Gallo told A Current Affair that the situation was “very scary” and was a problem that educators have been dealing with for years.
“I think society and the community has been a bit slow on the uptake to understanding how dangerous vapes are,” she said.
And while she believes the measures being taken by the government are a step in the right direction, she believes the problem cannot be properly addressed without cracking down on retailers.
The government is cracking down on e-cigarettes. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard
“Unless there are enough police and health officers to be able to go and approach these retailers and get these products off the street and off the market, it’s certainly not going to be enough,” Ms Del Gallo said.
There are already those thinking about upping the scrutiny on e-cigarette sellers by introducing “vape police”.
VicHealth CEO Sandro Demaio, a globally-renowned public health expert and medical doctor, told news.com.au that as soon as the Albanese Government introduced new import bans enforcement could be much tougher at a state level.
Dr Demaio said that introducing plain packaging was important because that would then allow enforcement to swing into action by each state introducing a licensing scheme.
“The licences themselves would create revenue, which can support enforcement officers, so we’re not relying on police to enforce the measures that we currently have,” he explained.
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“In theory, they’re not currently subject to the laws because they don’t contain nicotine. But the vast majority do contain nicotine; they’re just simply not putting in all the packets.
“And really, what needs to be done is to say, ‘Well, if there’s no flavours, no colours and the only pathway through a prescription, and they, they, they have pharmaceutical packaging, it then makes it much easier for the states to actually enforce it.”