Western Sydney researchers uncover truths on vaping in schools to help protect our youth

Western Sydney Local Health District’s (WSLHD) researchers Professor Smita Shah OAM and Kym Rizzo Liu’s forward-thinking approach to research on vaping in schools has seen them talk face-to-face with students, parents and teachers to discuss their perspectives first-hand.

Smita and Kym’s work in the WSLHD Prevention Education and Research Unit (PERU) explored vaping knowledge, attitudes and behaviours at Erskine Park High School where 19 students (years seven and 10), six parents and 24 teachers took part.

Their findings show that teachers believe 20 to 60 per cent of students are vaping with Kym adding “students will sometimes have to line up to use the toilets because there are people vaping inside the cubicles”.

Smita said some of the reasons students choose to vape include “peer pressure, senior students as role models becoming suppliers of vapes plus social media influencers who make it look cool”.

“We know that the tobacco companies have got in through social media and into the heads of young people without most of us realising how and that was the reason we wanted to do this study because we wanted to source information direct from students in a safe, fun and non-judgemental environment.”

Another key finding in the study was the accessibly of vapes which Kym said “is very concerning because 100 per cent of students agreed that vapes are easy to source”.

In some cases, due to misinformation, parents were not only vaping but also supplying vapes to their kids.

To help to correctly inform parents and students, Smita and Kym recommend schools implement the following to educate on the dangers of vaping and to discourage vaping use:

  • Senior students as vaping prevention advocates at school
  • Incorporate learning about vaping into school punishments
  • Information for students and parents from credible sources
  • Use of sport/sporting heroes as a disincentive
  • Use of social media for vaping prevention advocacy.

The research also determined vape product features were particularly appealing to young people because of their discreet nature, pleasant flavours, cheap cost and slick packaging.

“They love the sweet smelling flavours and subtly of a vape, which aids adolescents to smoke in any environment because if they get caught, they can pass it easily to a friend to put in a pocket and walk away,” said Kym. 

The study presented students with a series of questions to explore through interactive and group processes.

The WSLHD PERU team is expanding their study Unpacking Vaping in schools and is looking for additional schools to conduct research at the coalface in order to give young people a voice on vaping. 

Read more on the Unpacking Vaping in Schools pilot here: https://www.amansw.com.au/unpacking-vaping-in-schools-2/