Kids Coughing Up Blood: Teen Reveals Reality Of Vaping In SA


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Kids Coughing Up Blood: Teen Reveals Reality Of Vaping In SA
Kids Coughing Up Blood: Teen Reveals Reality Of Vaping In SA

From her first draw on a vape 13-year-old Abbey was hooked.

She had been offered a puff before and said no, but eventually it seemed everyone was doing it and “curiosity just took over”.

“I don’t really know how to describe it, but I liked it a lot,” Abbey told The Advertiser.

“It was so powerful, it would get you thinking about it all the time. It just took over all my days.”

Abbey, who did not want her surname published, has revealed that young South Australians are routinely coughing up blood from vaping and children as young as 12 are using e-cigarettes daily.

Education Department data, released exclusively to The Advertiser, shows more than 1000 students are being suspended for vaping, or selling the devices, each year and at least 12 public schools have spent thousands of dollars installing detectors to crack down on their use.

Abbey was introduced to vapes by other students at Yankalilla Area School in early 2023. By late in term 2 she was using daily.

In the months that followed she was suspended three times for vaping, usually after being caught in the school toilets passing a vape between friends.

Her parents were worried and unsure how to help but, in the end, it was a heartfelt chat with school principal Christine Bell that convinced the teen to give up.

Now they want other families, and school leaders, to understand why so many young people are being drawn to vaping and what it will take to arrest the dangerous trend.

It is illegal for people aged under 18 to buy any vaping device, but Abbey told The Advertiser they were not difficult to access.

Her first puff was from a vape offered by a friend.

A device containing enough liquid to produce “about 1000 hits” cost about $30, she said.

“People post on social media and put the price,” Abbey said.

“They post all these tricks you can do with the smoke, sometimes it’s colourful smoke … and it just makes it appealing to younger kids.

“They’re just everywhere. It’s so normalised. Because it’s so addictive you can’t really get away from it.”

When Abbey took her first draw on a vape she remembers getting “headspins”.

“It makes you very dizzy, you can feel it in your bloodstream,” she explained.

“I don’t know what it is but something about that was really addictive, even though it sounds so unappealing.

“In the moment it helps, but then it made me feel really guilty. I just felt horrible 10 minutes after I did it.”

The side effects took their toll, affecting Abbey’s appetite, mood and concentration.

“It just made me very angry and irritable, but also very emotional,” she said.

“I’d just cry over very small things.

“It also fogs your memory. It makes remembering things really hard, and focus is really difficult because you’re always thinking about it.”

While Abbey never suffered severe physical symptoms she knew others who became breathless, experienced wheezing or “would cough up blood from it”.

“And they would still keep going. That’s, like, a normal thing from vaping,” she said.

“It’s really sad because they don’t realise the damage they’re doing to themselves and, give it one more year, and they might end up in a hospital bed.”

Experts warn nicotine can have long-lasting impacts on brain development in young people.

SA’s Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier has warned one e-cigarette can contain the same amount of nicotine as 50 or more tobacco cigarettes.

In 2022, 1090 students were suspended for vaping, or selling the devices.

By October 2023 that number had already passed 1035.

Principals have also been making more than 100 reports a year to the department’s incident hotline.

The problem affects public and private schools and is high on Education Minister Blair Boyer’s agenda.

He said the “worrying national trend of increased vaping among young people” reflected a “broader societal problem”.

The government has funded the Be Vape Free awareness campaign through SA Health and education programs in schools, Mr Boyer said.

Vaping fact sheets have been translated into 11 languages and discussions on the impacts of e-cigarettes were added to the health and physical education curriculum.

Posters detailing the harmful substances found in vapes, which can include nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray, are displayed in all public high schools.

“The best approach to addressing this issue is to educate young people … so they are motivated to make informed decisions,” Mr Boyer said.

Abbey’s lightbulb moment came after her third suspension, when Principal Bell shared how her father and brother had been diagnosed with mouth cancer from smoking.

“She explained how she had to watch her loved ones suffering … and that changed my perspective,” Abbey said.

“I see videos on TikTok saying quit vaping … and I used to just scroll past. But when it comes from someone who cares about you it’s a lot more powerful.”

Ms Bell said she regularly has students come to her seeking help to quit, including a young athlete who was struggling to breathe while running and a girl pressured to carry vapes for her peers.

In June, Ms Bell launched the Escape the Vape campaign, organising a community forum and hiring a drug counsellor for her school.

She also made packs for parents, including prompts to start a conversation with their child.

Abbey’s mum Joyanne said it had been “scary” when they learned she was vaping “because you don’t know where it’s going to go”.

“(We thought) how do we educate ourselves and not say the wrong thing, or do something that’s going to make it worse?” Joyanne said.

“But I think Abbey was relieved, and we were too, that it was out in the open.”

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The family attended Ms Bell’s forum and Abbey visited the school drug counsellor, who she helped her to take quitting “one day at a time”.

The changes at Yankalilla Area School have reduced vaping-related suspensions from two a week to just one in the 10 weeks of term 4.

“It does take time to develop the relationships with kids, and have that education,” Ms Bell said, “but that’s what works.”

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