OUR education reporter, Helen Gregory, has produced an important piece in today's Newcastle Herald on the explosion of "vaping" - the use of "e-cigarettes" - in schools across our our region.
More accurately, this is a global confrontation, with e-cigarettes becoming the new norm as Big Tobacco reacts to the increasingly successful public health push-back against cigarettes.
To some degree, vaping can be read as a reaction to the taxation-driven offensive that has cut smoking rates by pushing cigarettes to a typical price of between $30 and $50 for a pack of 20 or 25. Vape shops online are advertising "800 puffs for $20", making e-cigarettes potentially cheaper than tobacco.
The question for schools - and for concerned parents - is how to best react to the well-known tendency for youth to experiment, and to go down paths they know their elders wish they wouldn't.
Australia's anti-smoking public health campaigns have led the world in reducing tobacco use, but this success came after long decades of embedded cigarette smoking despite the public knowing full well the deathly dangers of lung cancer and other smoking-related conditions.
The original vaping companies may have been small operations, but Big Tobacco has bought out many of the manufacturers, and put its years of marketing and legal experience to use in the promotion of e-cigarettes as a "healthy" alternative.
A growing body of medical research is throwing doubt on any such claims, regardless of whether or not the e-cigarettes contain nicotine.
Anything other than clean air carries the potential to compromise human health, and sadly the impacts may take decades to show themselves.
By then it's often too late.
There is no simple way to stop discourage children from vaping.
Some will never even try, but for those that do, the "gateway" theory of addiction - in which one experience leads to another - does not predict good outcomes.
Prohibition simply drives things underground.
Whatever the response, it must revolve around dispassionate education that admits the attraction of such products, as well as their dangers.
The heavy demand for a Headspace Newcastle webinar on vaping shows that parents are concerned about the situation, and looking for answers.
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