A Canberra school has suspended a group of five teenagers for vaping as experts sound the alarm about the concerning rise across the ACT and the country.
The St Mary MacKillop College students were suspended for one day last week after they were caught vaping on school grounds.
Youth centres, doctors and researchers are becoming increasingly concerned about the rates of vaping among under 18s.
MacKillop College principal Michael Lee said the group suspension came after numerous other individual cases across various year groups were recorded in the past six months.
"This issue presented itself once or twice last term, but there has been an increase in the management of this at the school," Mr Lee said.
"We're mindful that this (vaping) is unhelpful to the students' health. It isn't legal.
"We're concerned about where they're accessing this. It's countercultural here, and we want parental engagement."
Mr Lee said their suspension process included a restorative approach that included conversations with parents, self-reflective letters and "re-entry conversations" about the choices.
"This can be quite a time-consuming process, but we find this general restorative approach to be fairly effective," he said.
"We've been very happy with the remorse that students show and their understanding that vaping is not in their health interests, as well as the activity being against the law."
Mr Lee said he was confident that the process was effective and will "monitor things quite closely" and may seek help from governments and health agencies if needed.
"We want kids to be safe. Bringing vapes to school is a poor choice and is against school culture," he said.
"That needs to be challenged in a constructive way."
The suspension comes after Merici College and Orana Steiner School told the Sunday Canberra Times on May 2 that they had recorded increases in vaping incidents.
Terry Slevin, CEO of Canberra-based Public Health Association of Australia, said the trend of vaping among young people was "going in the wrong direction" and had become more prominent in the past few years.
"There are adverse effects in terms of lung health with cases of lungs exploding and poisoning of children," he said.
"We are concerned about an increased uptake of vaping, which is entirely consistent with the marketing we're seeing with these products."
A Canberra woman, who did not want to be named, said her granddaughter attended one of the independent schools and that reports about vaping had increased.
"I've heard it from so many different sources, therefore so many different schools. It's far more widespread that people give credit for," she said.
"We have to bring parents into it, too. It's an awareness that needs to take place at home."
An ACT Education Directorate spokesperson said the directorate did not "centrally gather data on the numbers of students using e-cigarettes".
"All school community members, including students, are expected to comply with all criminal laws in the ACT whilst on school grounds," they said.
The spokesperson cited the directorate's Safe and Supportive Schools Policy, which provides guidance for Canberra public schools on promoting safe, respectful and supportive school communities.
Andrew Wrigley, executive director of ACT Independent Schools Association, said individual schools needed to be approached when asked about the issue generally.
Similarly, an Independent Schools Australia spokeswoman said they were unable to comment about specific issues for each school and declined to comment about vaping generally.
Its CEO Margery Evans said they encouraged schools to develop and integrate health and well-being targets into their curriculum that consider the specific needs of their students.
Paul Dillon, director of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia, said based on his school talks and visits, he did not think "there's a school that isn't touched by this in some ways".
"With the ease of buying them online and through social media and delivery services, they certainly became increasingly popular," Mr Dillon said.
"Typically, most alcohol and drug issues occur on weekends. You certainly don't see them at school, but this one (vaping) is coming into school grounds.
"Schools are trying to work out how to educate young people about them because they are so new."
Mr Dillon said it was about "boundary pushing" for students who vape.
"Adolescence is a time where you push boundaries, you want to establish your own identity," he said.
"We're seeing some very young kids - year eights and year nines. Schools are certainly aware and trying to inform parents that this is an issue that they should look for at home as well."
Mr Dillon has published a blog about how parents can deal with the matter.
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