A Tale of Education


Before I start this post there’s a few points I simply have to clarify:

  • Underage vaping or smoking

As an advocate for vaping, I have no issues with teens taking to vaping or smoking if that is their choice. I would prefer that they didn’t do either of course, but if they were to do one or the other, I would prefer they vaped.

  • Adhering to school rules

Kids will be kids frankly. I broke more than my fair share of school rules. I was one of those that really didn’t like the rules. However, now I’ve grown up a bit (no really I have), I can understand why those rules were there, why they were enforced, and how much of a dunderheaded buffoon I was in school.

  • Proxy purchase of vapourisers

I agree wholeheartedly that proxy-purchase should be allowed for existing smoking youth only. That is a given. If your kid smokes, I have no issue with an adult buying them a vapouriser. I’m more ambivalent towards proxy purchase if the kid in question doesn’t smoke but again, no real problem with it. But the whole proxy purchase discussion is full of nuances which I’m not going too deep into in this post.

On with the post.

It has been ‘reported’ in none other than the Daily Mail (I know), and now picked up by The Mirror and ITV News that a mother has complained about a school confiscating her son’s e-cig.

Headline

Being the Daily Mail the headline, and sub-lines don’t actually tell the story (big surprise) you actually need to read the article, by which point brains are normally leaking from ears. In a bizarre twist, this article is actually reasonably balanced (for the Daily Mail), and it does raise several, quite serious, questions. At least for me it does, hence the bullet points before this post.

A mother has complained after her 14-year-old son’s school confiscated the e-cigarette he was using to quit smoking.

To be absolutely honest, I personally think that the reason the kid has an e-cig in the first place is great. He is using it to quit smoking. I applaud the effort. I am in two minds about the school confiscating the device though.

Mason Dunn, who has a 10-a-day habit, was caught vaping at Kearsley Academy in Greater Manchester where there is a strict no-smoking policy.

A strict no-smoking policy there may be, there was a strict no-smoking policy at the school I went to, yet I still started smoking in the school grounds, and comically even shared a smoke or two with the headmaster. This is the rules thing. Just because there is a rule, doesn’t mean it’s a) enforced and b) adhered to. Kids know the school grounds better than teachers do, they know where they can go for a crafty smoke at break times without being spotted.

But his mother Sue Dunn, from Bolton, says he was using the device in an attempt to kick the habit, which began after his father died when he was 12.

I think we can all understand a trigger like this to “deviant behaviour” such as smoking. Losing a family member is incredibly tough at my age (35), it’s even harder for our young. I cannot, and will not condemn him in this instance.

The family bought him the electronic cigarette last year – though there are currently no restrictions on under-18s buying them – to encourage him to cut down and eventually quit.

This is where my full wholehearted support in favour of proxy-purchase wins. The family bought the device to encourage him to cut down and eventually quit. This is to be lauded and endorsed across the board. No questions asked. Vaping is harm reduction, whether the user eventually stops vaping is entirely their choice. I cannot stress that enough.

Miss Dunn explained the situation to his teachers and stressed that Mason would not use the e-cigarette in open view or in front of younger children.

This is where it gets a little messy to me. The parent, in my opinion should have approached the school prior to allowing him to go to school with the device. After all, teachers are canny creatures and will eventually discover it as they have done. Going to the school to explain it well ahead of time would no doubt have avoided this particular incident, or it may have created a whole different one where the school outright says “no chance”.

The school has a duty of care for all the students, which in my opinion extends to helping those students who are breaking the rules by smoking. In this case, the parent purchased a vapouriser to help her kid quit, this should have been encouraged by the school with guidelines in place, such as where and when the device can be used. Everybody wins, the school is aware of the situation, is answering its duty of care to the pupil and the pupil is reducing his harm. Instead, we have this mess.

The school, which was branded ‘good’ in its latest Ofsted report this year, says it has also referred Mason to its nurse on several occasions.

From my school nurse experiences (and I had a few), this probably did the total sum of diddly squat. But I do wonder if the school referred him to the nurse specifically for smoking or something else entirely? The article isn’t particularly clear, but I suspect he was referred to the nurse specifically for smoking.

Miss Dunn said: ‘I am not happy about the fact that he smokes in the first place, but we have tried everything to help him stop.
‘We have tried patches and have been to the doctor, but nothing worked, so my eldest son bought him an e-cigarette and it has helped him stop smoking cigarettes. He has really made an effort.

Most parents aren’t happy when they discover their child smokes, and they all react differently. From her statement, it appears as though they tried the conventional routes and like thousands of others found that the conventional “recommended” methods did not work. Again, I have nothing but praise for the actions the family have taken in trying to help the kid, it is clear that he wants to try to give up, and has the valuable family support.

After swapping to the electronic device at the start of the summer, the teenager managed to avoid smoking any cigarettes but since going back to school this month he has taken it up again.

Should this be 100% true, this is clear indication that despite what some in public health claim, the devices do work and they work well with support. Sadly, this type of case is usually dismissed as an “anecdote” in favour of science. Both have their place in this debate, and some in public health seem to forget the real people involved and affected by it. This cannot be made any clearer than the kids statement:

Mason said: ‘It feels like the school don’t want me to stop smoking.

This is a horrible thing. The school is aware that he smokes and is trying to push him down the “recommended route” which he has already been down and it hasn’t worked. It’s a case of “keep trying until you get it” and is, in my opinion, more harmful than encouraging the use of a vapouriser.

‘It is really irritating because they shout at me when I have got a cigarette and tell me to stop and then when I try to quit, they tell me to stop doing that as well.

How clear can it be? He wants to give up smoking. He’s tried. Now that he has, the school are taking away the very thing that has helped him reach that stage. Sadly, it seems that since the vapouriser was confiscated he went back to smoking. This suggests that he may have smoked more than the stated “10 a day”, but it is clear that he has relapsed back to smoking without his device. How does the duty of care apply there?

‘It is really hard and I don’t know what to do next.’

I really cannot blame him for his confusion here. He’s found a way to get off tobacco cigarettes and during school time it is being denied him. With a bit of discussion, the school could make provisions to help him, but it appears they aren’t going to do that. This brings up another discussion point. Can the school override the parent?

A school is a public government building. Usually funded by the government (though not necessarily) and has many rules and guidelines. Schools as a general rule do not override parents, except in cases where it is believed that the parent is being irresponsible to the point of neglecting the child. There’s many routes a school can take, including involving local authorities (child services, medical, and even the police in extreme cases) to help the parent and child. When it comes to the health and wellbeing of a child, the parent as is the case here, is solely responsible and should not be overridden by the school. If this conflicts with school policies, then a discussion should take place to reach an agreement. However, each case is different and many schools take it upon themselves to “manage” that and in the majority of cases, they get it right. It is my opinion that in this case they got it wrong.

School The school insists on a duty of care, and they are absolutely right, when the pupils are on their grounds, they are responsible for them. To a point.

Thankfully, the school dinners of my time are long since dead and buried, but the continual drive to “leading healthy lifestyles” and to “make healthy choices” in my opinion should really start at home with reinforcement by the school and not the other way around. Schools have the kids for 6-7 hours a day 5 days a week. The focus should be on passing on knowledge so that the kids can become productive in society when they are older.

I do find the terminology used to “clarify” the policy statement regarding safeguarding the students; “including the use of any nicotine inhalation devices are not allowed”. This would then include traditional NRT such as the inhalator and even QuickMist. This stance does limit the availability of support from the school in instances where the pupil is a known smoker, to the limited options available in nicotine replacement therapies; dermal (patches), and oral (gums, lozenges and tablets). I doubt the nasal spray would be allowed in case it might be considered “snorting something”.

Policy

Taken directly from the academy policy document. The final sentence seems to have been added as an afterthought, but regardless the policy is clear. No smoking or vaping. But. If a pupil gets caught with a cigarette, there’s every possibility that all the pupil will do is get one from someone else, it isn’t particularly difficult to do. Students that smoke tend to know who else in the student population smokes. If a vapouriser is confiscated, it’d be more difficult as there’s not likely to be anyone with a “spare” device to loan out, leaving only one option; bum a smoke from another student.

Was the school right in confiscating the device? A question I haven’t yet fully answered, but it is clear (according to the media so pinch of salt here) that he did relapse back to smoking once the device was confiscated. So from a duty of care aspect no they weren’t right. They confiscated a less harmful product (compared to cigarettes) as a result he went back to smoking.

From a moral, ideological and policy standpoint, absolutely right to confiscate the device. Smoking, and by extension vaping, is banned on school premises. Has been for a very long time. Rules are rules.

Is there an answer to this? Not an easy one no. It is widely acknowledged that people start smoking at a young age, and generally (as I did) whilst physically at school. Is the answer to deny young smokers one of the available options and only allow “traditional” NRT which has a dismal success rate? The obvious answer to that is no. The broadest possible range of options should be catered for in all situations, including schools.

Of course, by allowing one student to use a vapouriser, even under controlled circumstances could potentially set a precedent where non-smoking teens could try to follow the same path. It is unlikely of course, but there is always the chance. But that needs to be offset against the potential gains if every smoking youth switched, was encouraged and guided by both parents and the school, how quickly would the youth smoking rate drop?

No easy answer to this sadly, it’s full of nuances, what ifs and more questions than The Answer.

For me, the key points to take away from this issue include:

  • Encouraging young smokers to switch – by both schools AND parents
  • Don’t stick to a set route, there is no “one size fits all” way out of smoking
  • Educate, the kids are in school, use some of the time to educate them on smoking AND vaping
  • Support the choices made by the kids to get away from smoking
  • If in doubt, engage with the kid, the parents and the school

It is far easier to mould a young mind to all possibilities than it is to convince an older mind. Schools have a “duty of care” but are failing in the simplest of ways by not educating their students on smoking and all the available ways out of smoking. However, it isn’t all up to the school. Parents have to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility and in this case, the parents have done just that. Should the child be allowed to vape on school grounds?

Not openly, no. Guided and limited areas to do so? Emphatic YES. At the end of the day, the child will make his or her own choice out of smoking, and in my view both the parents AND the school should support that choice.

  • Excellent observations and assessment of this particular case Paul. I believe it to be quite clear further study on how best to help kids who are presently smoking is a concern meriting serious consideration in order to best serve those same kids. With the arrival of personal vaporizers as a tool to help smokers end smoking; society as a collective would be better served to study what has already been presented through research. THR is clearly obvious when switching from tobacco smoke to vaporized ingredients used in other forms of cessation for smokers. Good read and thanks for sharing.

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  • Lollylulubes

    Unfortunately, many people don’t understand vaping to the degree that we do. It could be very useful to have experienced vapers approach schools to ‘educate’ staff …. after all, vaping isn’t smoking as a start. If, with parental, school, or GP permission, kids want to use vaping to switch away from lit tobacco, this is the optimum time to do it, before they start earning money, which brings the opportunity to buy more cigarettes and become even more addicted. If schools got on board, kids could come out the other end as life long non-smokers.