Schools grappling with the vaping epidemic are crying out for help, and it’s Sharon Pihema, the Foundation’s Āpiha Takawaenga Māori (Māori Community Liaison), who is coming to the rescue delivering vaping education workshops and resources to rangatahi in Tairāwhiti.
But it’s not just about delivering dry facts and figures; it's about arming young minds with the knowledge they need to navigate the treacherous world of vaping.
Pihema says children as young as 10 years old are now vaping, which shows just how bad the epidemic is.
“Schools have been struggling with this problem for nearly five years trying to provide education and support, while needing to manage behaviour and increasing numbers of students vaping.
“One school recently told me that they had just spent $750,000 on vape detectors and cameras for their bathrooms – this has to come out of their operational funding so it’s a massive chunk of their overall budget having to be spent on vape prevention and monitoring.”
But her workshops are making a big change.
One deputy principal told Pihema that he believed there had been a real shift in the use of vapes at school after her visit.
Pihema hopes her workshops create awareness, but she admitted her work is only one part of the solution.
The second part is education, she says.
“There’s a Māori whakatauki (proverb): ‘whaia te matauranga kia mārama’, which means ‘seek knowledge for understanding’.
“If we want our young people to make good healthy decisions then we need to provide them with a range of information for them to learn, interpret and apply to their everyday lives.”
The vaping industry are deliberately targeting youth with enticing flavours, cartoon imagery, sleek design and cheap products that are visible and available in every community, Pihema says.
“Of course our children are going to be interested and attracted to them when they are marketed like that. It's important that we are aware of these tactics and don’t get sucked in.”
It was like history repeating itself, she says.
"We have been here before with the tobacco industry trying to lure young people into smoking cigarettes - those young people were our grandparents and parents.
“Now we are back again, but this time it’s our children and grandchildren that are the target.”
She believes there needs to be more support for education in schools.
“Once we have that knowledge base, then we can look collectively at what solutions are going to work best for the students, their home life, their school and the wider community.”
Concerned about vaping and your young people? Don't let them get sucked in. Click here for more.
Learn what we know about vaping from Dr. Kelly Burrowes, as well as some answers to some common vaping questions here.