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Moray’s ‘nightmare’ under-age vaping problem

By Ena Saracevic

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“THESE kids are addicted to nicotine – a ban on disposable vapes isn’t going to stop them from seeking it.”

Youth vaping in Moray is a "nightmare" to handle, according to an anonymous teacher...Picture: Adobe Stock
Youth vaping in Moray is a "nightmare" to handle, according to an anonymous teacher...Picture: Adobe Stock

A Moray teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, said it has been a “nightmare” to stop the rise in pupils vaping.

“We’ve started having to close certain toilets in the school because kids have been vaping in them. It’s been a nightmare to stop them,” he said.

“They’re congregating in the toilets as they can’t vape without being caught anywhere else, there have been a lot more incidents of violence and aggression.”

The grounds of many secondary schools in the region, and across the country, are littered with disposable vapes.

The teacher added that lateness was sometimes related to pupils going out to vape between lessons.

In the past month, he has witnessed two violent incidents outside the toilets.

And, at another school, the teacher saw up to 50 pupils vaping on school grounds during intervals.

He continued: “In conversations with more senior pupils, I’ve heard when going into corner shops it’s so easy to just ask for a Lost Mary or Elf Bar. There are very few ID checks.

“Even in primary schools, I’ve heard from fellow teachers that there are kids as young as 11 who are regularly vaping.”

A pupil, from Lossiemouth, said vaping is such a large problem at their school that teachers have resorted to ‘turning their heads’ away from the problem.

“Teachers say not to do it [vaping] but have never got any student, from my knowledge, into trouble for vaping during school hours,” the pupil said.

“I have watched teachers just ignore it and turn a head.”

In response to the claims, Moray Council leader Councillor Kathleen Robertson (Conservative, Forres) said she and other senior councillors supported a ban on disposable vapes.

In the Scottish Health and Wellbeing census 2021/22, almost one in ten (9.2 per cent) of Moray pupils in S2 and S4 were regular users of e-cigarettes.

This is compared to the Scottish average of 6.7 per cent.

In 2022, a survey showed that the number of 15-year-olds using e-cigarettes in Scotland has risen from 7 per cent in 2018, to one in four.

One senior pupil, from Elgin, started vaping in her third year – when she was 15-years-old.

She said: “It’s now on and off, I only vape when I feel like it.

“I started vaping because my friends were and I thought it’d make me fit in. Smoking doesn’t taste that nice, it’s the flavours with vaping that are appealing.

“I’ve for sure seen an increase in vaping, even with younger years. I’ve seen groups of kids as young as 11 vaping.”

In her experience, she added, most young people either get e-cigarettes from people they know or from shops who sell them to young people illegally.

In 2018, two-thirds of Moray retailers failed e-cigarette age tests. Out of the 17 shops tested, only six asked for proof of age when selling e-cigarettes to young buyers.

In the past three years, there have been ten complaints to trading standards about shops selling vaping products to under-18s in Moray.

In January, the UK Government announced that disposable vapes will be banned in England.

The Scottish Government has proposed legislation to ban the sale and supply of disposable vapes by April 2025.

Councillor Draeyk van der Horn (Green, Forres) has called on the council to stop businesses from selling disposable vapes due to their harmful impact on the environment and the health of young people.

He said: “It is appalling that Moray has a higher take up in schools than the Scottish average, that is a huge concern and points to the unscrupulous sale of vapes and the continued expansion of unregulated black-market sales that have been shown to include highly toxic chemicals and massive levels of nicotine.

“I suspect many users and parents are unaware of the health damage and dicing with the risks of cancer and an early death. Yet young people are enticed with ‘bubble gum’ flavours that encourage their use.”

Last year, Aberdeen introduced a charter to address “proxy purchasing” of vapes.

This encouraged retailers selling nicotine-related products to only accept card payments to discourage young people from paying older people to buy vapes for them.

In October, Councillor Jérémie Fernandes (Elgin North, SNP) wrote a question to the council’s planning committee to ask if a similar charter could be introduced in Moray. This was declined due to the council’s budget.

Regarding the new ban on disposable vapes, he said: “Given that the vast majority of vapes sold in Scotland are disposable, the ban on single-use vapes could be especially impactful.

“However, let’s not forget that vapes, regardless of whether they’re disposable or not, are age-restricted. School pupils should not have access to them.

“To effectively tackle this issue, it’s essential for retailers to adhere strictly to the law, and for parents to refrain from providing their children with vapes.”

According to health charity ASH Scotland, between 2020 and 2023, the use of disposables among 11-17 e-cigarette users increased ten-fold from 6.8 per cent to 69 per cent.

Sheila Duffy, the chief executive of ASH Scotland, said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s proposed banning of disposable recreational e-cigarettes, which are the product of choice for the majority of youngsters who vape.

“This is a major step forward towards halting the alarming huge upsurge of children and young people in Moray and across Scotland vaping in recent years.”

Moray MP Douglas Ross has said he is “deeply alarmed” at the rate of underage vaping in Moray, and supports the impending ban on disposable vapes.

“While health evidence on the impact of vaping remains inconclusive, the rapid increase in the number of young people vaping including in Moray is concerning.

“I hope that this crackdown that will soon become law will discourage the near one in ten young people in Moray who are vaping from continuing to do so.”

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