A new ‘craze’ for electronic cigarettes and flavoured smoking devices has sparked a ban by schools across the Fylde coast.
Teachers have caught pupils using e-cigarette and ‘shisha’ devices, prompting a total ban on the equipment at no fewer than eight local high schools.
Headteachers and resort health chiefs, who say the use of the devices is a new “fad”, are concerned they could be damaging to youngsters’ health and may encourage other pupils to take up smoking.
Electronic cigarettes are designed to substitute regular tobacco smoking and contain nicotine. And health chiefs say not enough research has been done into the effects of flavoured shisha devices, known as shisha pens, which contain different vapours.
Headteachers at Highfield Humanities College, AKS, Carr Hill High School, Baines School, Fleetwood High School, Bispham High School and Arts College, Lytham St Annes Technology and Performing Arts College and Cardinal Allen Catholic High School have told The Gazette they have banned their use.
Health bosses have supported the ban and called for tighter regulation, while one business owner – who runs shops which sell e-cigarettes and shisha pens – says she has had parents coming in to try to buy the devices for their children.
Sara Dewhurst, deputy headteacher at Highfield Humanities College, on Highfield Road, South Shore, said the school took action after two recent occasions where e-cigs have been taken off pupils.
She said: “We have a very clear policy on items that cannot be brought into school.
“Electronic cigarettes have been included in our policy for the first time this year following a couple of incidents where pupils have been caught using them on the premises.
“The reason for the ban is over concerns that pupils could be encouraged to start smoking and this has health implications.”
A spokesman at Carr Hill High School and Sixth Form, in Kirkham, described the use of the devices as a “fad”.
She added: “We don’t allow anything like that in school because smoking is against our policy.
“The only students who are old enough to smoke are in the upper sixth form and even then it’s completely banned.
“They are a fad that pupils are going through. They seem to think it’s healthier to have these cigarettes when in actual fact they aren’t good for you and are only another thing to be addicted to.”
Shisha pens are readily available on the internet and are an alternative to smoking the substance through a pipe.
The average shisha smoking session through a pipe can last for an hour and research carried out by the British Heart Foundation has shown smokers can inhale the same amount of smoke as 100 cigarettes in that time.
And doctors have warned that just because some of the devices do not contain nicotine, it does not mean they are safe to use.
Dr Ram Moorthy, a spokesman for the British Medical Association, added: “Unfortunately there is nothing to prevent somebody selling an e-cig to a child.
“The concern is the way they are being marketed at younger non-smokers, trying to suggest it’s glamorous.
“The worry is it acts as a gateway into smoking. We think about e-cigs as being less harmful than smoking but that is for a smoker, not a non-smoker or a child.
“Nobody knows what the long-term impact of inhaling the vapour is.
“Parents have got to be aware that it is a risky craze and, potentially, could have a dramatic impact on their child’s health.”
Laura Chadwick, owner of Vapour Stop, in St Annes, said although electronic cigarettes are a healthier option for smokers and can help them quit, she would not advise them to non-smokers.
She said: “A 12 or 13-year-old can go into Blackpool to the market and buy them but you shouldn’t be able to. We have our own policy and won’t sell to under-18s.
“We do have mums and dads coming in to buy them for their children but I would never advise anybody that doesn’t smoke to use them.”
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it wants electronic cigarettes and shisha pens regulated as medicines, meaning they would be subject to much greater quality control.
With support from the EU, the change could see unregulated products taken off the market by 2016.
Coun Sarah Riding, Blackpool Council’s new cabinet member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “The issue of electronic shisha devices is an emerging one which, as with e-cigarettes, we are looking at closely.
“Because such products have recently come to market, research into the long-term health effects, is very limited.
“Our public health team will be looking closely at the issue and taking advice from the Department of Health and other appropriate bodies.”