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Schools lock toilets to tackle rampant vaping

This article is reproduced from The Sydney Morning Herald - Read the full article here

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By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

March 3, 2022

Schools across NSW are locking toilets outside break times to clamp down on students vaping e-cigarettes, but families say restrictions are causing health and hygiene problems for students.

The Herald has heard from dozens of families with children at public, Catholic and independent schools about newly imposed toilet restrictions to deal mostly with vaping, but also vandalism.

It comes as NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell told budget estimates the use of e-cigarettes among young people was a growing concern, and she was working with NSW Health and other agencies on a whole-of-government response.

Ms Mitchell told the Herald this could include advertising, additional resources in schools and curated information for parents.

“What’s needed is a broad community response to vaping, just like what we saw with smoking,” Ms Mitchell said.

A five-year-old boy in Victoria landed in hospital this week after vaping at school and consuming high doses of nicotine and other chemicals.

Vaping devices, which are widely available in tobacconists and often illegally sold to minors, appear designed to appeal to young people with bright colours, sweet flavours and shapes that disguise them as pens or USB sticks.

Nicotine juices for vape devices are legally sold in Australia only with a prescription to help people quit smoking, but can be legally imported from online retailers. Some products reportedly contain nicotine even when labelled otherwise.

Vaping is a growing issue in schools, as reported by the Herald, but not everyone agrees locking toilets is a suitable response. It not only prevents students going during class time but also in the transitions between classes.

A spokesperson for NSW Education told the Herald there was no department policy about locking toilets, but there would always be a toilet available.

“Schools may restrict access during class time to stop students congregating in toilets and engaging in anti-social behaviour, however students can still use the toilet facilities,” the spokesperson said.

Craig Petersen, the president of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, said some schools close the toilet blocks outside break times, but would let students use the toilet in the office.