In 2023, the total number of students stood down for vaping increased 19 percent from the previous year, shows new figures from the Ministry of Education.
In six out of ten regions, more students in Years 1 – 8 were stood-down for smoking or vaping than older ākonga, suggesting vaping may be a bigger issue in primary schools than some secondary schools in parts of the country.
The recent data does not discriminate between smoking and vaping, meaning these stand-downs also occur for smoking incidents. However, principals say that vaping is the overwhelming issue in schools.
“It has permeated through our schools significantly, and has caused, for some students, behavioural issues which some of them wouldn’t have exhibited previously,” says Phil Palfrey, the principal of Kaitao Intermediate in Rotorua.
Some students would vape in class, notes Palfrey.
Some Rotorua kura are now implementing a new vaping policy to educate the wider community. The policy was written by Palfrey and seems to be making a difference in the area. Palfrey says a lot of schools are just “better at dealing with it.”
The Ministry of Education notes that the stand-down data on vaping is more a reflection of school’s policies on vaping and smoking rather than the rate of smoking and vaping itself.
“The number of these events should not be used as a proxy measure for total student behaviour,” said the Ministry.
However, advocacy groups such as Vape-free kids believe the government isn’t taking the issue seriously. Co-founder of Vape-free kids Tammy Downer said “a lot of these kids are seriously addicted to it, they can’t concentrate in class, they can’t learn.”
Palfrey and Downer say that the recent regulations don’t go far enough to prevent vaping behaviours. Education Minister Erica Stanford said in a statement that vaping and smoking in schools is a concern for the new government.
“The NZ First / National coalition agreement includes policies to ban disposable vaping products and increase penalties for illegal sales to those under 18,” she said.
“Health officials have been asked to provide advice on the practical steps that will help stop young people from starting smoking and vaping.”