Published: 15 August 2023.
Research by the School Health Research Network showed that Wales experienced a rapid increase in vaping by secondary school-aged young people between 2019 and 2022, particularly among girls. Over the last year feedback from parents and headteachers in Wales suggests rates may have continued to rise and more worryingly that more young people are showing signs of problematic use or dependency.
While vaping can provide a valuable aid to assist tobacco smokers who have been unable to quit by other means to significantly reduce their health risks, all experts are clear that vaping is not safe for non-smokers. There are concerns that frequent use may be exposing young people to the risk of addiction to nicotine. Nicotine addiction can cause problems with attention, mood, impulse control, and sleep issues and so has a potential impact on education, relationships, and overall lifestyle. There is also concern about the impact of nicotine on the developing brain.
As well as legal vapes, illegal vaping products which do not conform to UK regulations are regularly available on the high street. They often contain higher levels of nicotine than the law allows. They have also been found to contain harmful chemicals and heavy metals like lead, nickel and chromium. Similarly, there are concerns that products are being sold illegally to young people aged under 18.
This issue has prompted Public Health Wales, working with our partners, to establish an Incident Response Group (IRG), which are more commonly used to organise the urgent containment of incidents of communicable disease. The IRG is a multi-agency group made up of experts from a variety of relevant fields including Welsh Government, Public Health Wales, Local Health Boards, Stop Smoking Service providers, Ash Cymru, Directors of Public Protection Wales, NHS paediatric and respiratory specialists and representatives from Education and Schools.
The IRG will immediately set out to gather evidence to confirm the incident, gain a perspective on its scope, and investigate and identify the causes. The group will then make recommendations to reduce the risk of ongoing harm and provide opportunities for collective action to address the problem.
Dr Julie Bishop, Director of Health Improvement at Public Health Wales and Chair of the IRG, said: “Vaping has not been around long enough for the risks of long-term use to be fully understood particularly among young people where there may be greater risks to the developing brain.
“Unfortunately, there is some evidence that use of vaping products is growing among young people in Wales and schools are increasingly raising concern about the impact vaping is having on some young people’s education.
“The establishment of the incident response group will allow Public Health Wales to gain an insight into the current extent of this issue, as well as identify opportunities with partners in education, healthcare and Welsh Government to prevent further harms as soon as possible.”