A special First News investigation into the growing number of kids who are vaping by Braydon Bent, aged 14.
Braydon Bent is one of the presenters on First News’ BAFTA award-winning show FYI, our partner weekly news show from Sky Kids and Sky News.
“The story was quite personal to me because my grandma Poppy died a few years back from smoking-related lung disease. She’d smoked heavily since she was my age and she’d always warned me that you get addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes.”
“One thing I quickly found out is that vaping is supposed to be just for adults. In fact, it’s illegal for vapes to be sold to anyone under the age of 18.”
Vaping was invented as a way of helping adults quit smoking tobacco cigarettes because it’s supposed to be less harmful. But, despite that, everyone admits that vaping isn’t completely risk-free. Most vapes still contain highly addictive nicotine.
“I wanted to check out the health risks for myself, so I went to see one of the NHS’s leading consultants for children, Professor Andrew Bush at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London.” Professor Bush told Braydon: “If you start vaping, there is a risk, a small risk, but a definite risk, that you can get a very serious lung disease”.
“People have gone into intensive care units and gone on to heart bypass machines because of acute [serious] exposure to vaping,” he said.
“As for the long-term health impacts, Professor Bush says we don’t really know because vaping hasn’t been around for long enough to find out. He warns that “it took 30 years to find out that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer”.
The most recent NHS figures show that 9% of 11 to 15-year-olds are now vaping, compared with just 6% back in 2018. So, why has there been such a large increase when the health risks seem to be so serious?
“I talked to some 16- and 17-year-old vapers who told me they’d been drawn into vaping by a combination of factors:
• They wanted to fit in with their friends who’d starting using vapes.
• They’d seen tutorials on social media showing them how to do ‘tricks’ with the vapes by blowing smoke rings into the air, and they thought it looked cool.
• They liked the brightly coloured packaging and sweet flavours of the vapes, which included things like custard doughnuts, gummy bears and twister lollipops.
• They thought it was harmless because no-one had warned them about any health risks.
I was quite shocked when they told me that many shops are selling vapes to children, without checking their age. One younger kid told me that some of the older children at his school were effectively acting as ‘vape dealers’, selling them to younger pupils for a profit.”
“The adults on the production team bought some vapes and we showed them to a branding and marketing expert called Chris Arning.”
He told me: “My first impression is that we’ve stumbled into a sweet shop here. We’ve got lurid pinks and reds and yellow; very bright, very vibrant, the sort of thing that I could imagine seeing in a sweet aisle in a corner shop or a supermarket. I would say it’s a bit naive to suggest that these packages are not influencing young people to want to try these products.”
So, what has the vaping industry got to say about all this? The Director General of the UK Vaping Industry Association, John Dunne, admitted that the upsurge of teenagers vaping was a big concern for the industry. He puts the blame on shops selling vapes to children and he wants the Government to introduce stricter rules.
“You have rogue traders out there that, frankly, don’t care who they sell products to. Some of the recommendations we’ve actually made to Government are that they should increase the fines for retailers who are caught selling products to minors and we think that stores that sell these products should be licensed because, when I go out on the street, you can see them in newsagents, pizza shops, hairdressers – these outlets are really not familiar with how to sell these products”.
But when it comes to the safety of vapes, he said vaping had helped lots of adults to quit smoking, which is far more dangerous than vaping.
“So, what were my personal thoughts at the end of my investigation? Well, I get that vaping has a positive role to play in helping adult smokers to quit – but I also understand why so many people are calling on the UK Government, including the Governments in Scotland and Wales, to take stronger measures to crack down on teenage vaping.”
Many other countries are already doing this, and it seems pretty obvious to me that more needs to be done in the UK.
“Perhaps people my age have a responsibility as well? Why are so many of us vaping when it’s pretty clear it’s highly addictive and could be very damaging for our health?”
“Personally, I’m going to stick to my Grandma Poppy’s advice and give it a miss.”
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