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South Wairarapa schools tackle vaping

South Wairarapa schools have taken a region-wide approach to educating students on the health risks of vaping.

The 12 schools, members of the South Wairarapa Kahui Ako, brought their Year 7 and 8 students together in August to participate in a Vape Truths workshop presented by Life Education Trust educator Laura Campbell and the Trust’s theatre-in-education programme Behind the Scenes, which deals with impacts of vaping and influence of social media. An online webinar for students’ whānau and teachers was also held.

In the last few years vaping has become a significant issue for many schools with many young people addicted to vaping.

As a result of ongoing concern from principals and educators, Life Education has been working with the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation to address the issue.  Behind the Scenes was developed with input from students, trialled in selected schools during Term 1 before being rolled out to secondary schools nationwide. South Wairarapa primary school students saw a version adapted for Year 7 and 8s.

Image supplied by Life Education

“It’s alarming the rapid increase in the number of school student’s vaping and the incredibly high nicotine rates of vaping products. Secondary school principals are telling us that vaping has become an epidemic and a number of the primary school leaders we work with are also citing it as an issue,” says Life Education Trust Chief Executive, John O’Connell.

The ASH Year 10 Snapshot Survey conducted with Year Ten Students in 2021, released results in February for regular vaping, and this showed dramatic uptake for all ethnicities; increasing from 12% in 2019 to 20% in 2021. 

This figure is in line with the regular vaping rates the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation/Secondary Principal’s Association Survey reported which had youth vaping in the past 7 days at 27%.  In the ASH Survey, regular vaping for Māori was alarmingly even higher, with 19.1% of Māori boys, regularly vaping in 2019 increasing to 30.6% in 2021, and for Māori girls, 19.1% in 2019 increasing to 40.7% in 2021.

Behind the Scenes uses the successful format of Life Education’s other theatre programmes, SMASHED and SMART$ to entertain and educate students. Behind the Scenes focuses on vaping and the wider context of how social media influences decision making and behaviours.

It will give young people the knowledge and skills to make positive choices around vaping and strategies to stand up to peer pressure. The content was informed by surveys of students to ensure it was relevant for the audience.

Gina Smith, Principal of Featherston School, said the actors delivered an upbeat performance.

Their transition between information and entertainment was seamless meaning our students were informed throughout the whole performance. Even though our students have had presentation on vaping before this was by far the most engaged I have seen them.

“These three young people delivered a tough message in a way we cannot do in a classroom and I believe their message got through to a majority of our students. “

 “Behind the Scenes gives rangatahi a safe space to discuss vaping, its impacts and peer pressure. We know from our experience with our other theatre in education programmes that this platform works for students of this age as it tells someone else’s story – not their own.” says Mr O’Connell.

Life Education integrated vaping education into their Healthy Harold programme in primary schools in 2020 and educators now offer a specific vaping education workshop, Vape Truths, for Years 7 – 10.

In conjunction with Behind the Scenes, Life Education has developed a 25-minute online webinar schools can invite parents and community to participate in. The webinar focuses on information on the types of vaping products, the impact of nicotine on the adolescent brain, and how vaping is being woven into the social media that young people watch.

“It’s wonderful to see these programmes being developed for our rangatahi. We need to ensure young people are educated on the harms of vaping so we can turn Aotearoa’s youth vaping epidemic around, and prevent future generations becoming addicted to a product that will have a negative impact on their health,” says Chief Executive, Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ, Letitia Harding.

John O’Connell

John is Chief Executive at Life Education Trust, which educates tamariki and rangatahi on a broad range of health topics that will impact them throughout their lives.
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