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Curiosity, peer pressure, and nicotine: why young people are choosing to vape

Vaping/e-cigarette use by many teenagers has become somewhat ‘the norm’ on local streets judging by the groups who congregate to hang out and vape together, a common sight daily after secondary schools finish.

With many younger users unaware that the products contain nicotine – thus increasing the likelihood of addiction – one secondary school principal The Avondhu spoke with, noted it was now ‘an issue with teenagers’ and was clear in his message to parents, whom he thought were not as aware as they should be of the danger or potential for this to become a lifelong habit.

While it is not illegal at the moment for anyone under 18 to buy vape/e-cigarette products, proposals being incorporated into the Public Health (Tobacco and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill saw the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and the Minister for Public Health Frank Feighan receiving government approval last November to introduce additional restrictions on the sale and advertising of nicotine inhaling products, such as e-cigarettes.

A noticeable negative from the use of vaping devices, which also come in ‘disposable’ forms, has seen an increase in our streets being frequently littering, with many ‘secondary streets’ or alleyways likely to have rubbish carelessly disposed of after vaping. One medical journal noted the hazard incorrect disposal of disposable vapes poses, describing it as ‘highly concerning on an ecological level’.

And while it is still uncertain as to the long-term physical health impacts of vaping, according to research published in Scientific American, those who vape nicotine ‘may be subjecting their brains to the same alterations that make it so difficult for tobacco smokers to quit and priming them to the use of combustible tobacco’(i).

Contacting all the secondary schools within its catchment, The Avondhu therefore sought to better understand the ‘attraction’ of vaping to those under 18 and what measures, if any, were being taken at secondary institutes to discourage teenagers from vaping.


Through conversations The Avondhu has had with both students and adults, it is apparent that not everyone is aware that vapes contain nicotine. While likely that most who smoke are probably aware of this, as they may turn to e-cigarettes as a ‘healthier’ alternative for a nicotine hit without any (known) cancerous effects, for someone who’s never smoked they won’t necessarily be as educated about what’s in a vape.

Nicotine gives a pleasant ‘buzz’ and releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical. It’s also been linked beneficially to the prevention of Alzheimer’s and delaying the progression of Parkinson’s disease. 

And while it is not illegal at the moment for an under 18 to buy vape products, many retailers already have signage in place saying they do not sell to under-18s. Regardless, an age restriction is due to come into place soon through an updated Public Health (Tobacco and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill.


One local retailer The Avondhu spoke with felt strongly that the product can be used successfully to get a smoker to kick the cigarette habit, and said in an ideal world a smoker would start on a ‘strong’ vape, and work their way down to a lighter one, eventually to a nicotine-free vape.

When queried, this retailer said that they felt people definitely did know vaping products contained nicotine, and in his experience young people do ask for the nicotine-free versions. And while smokers sometimes ask for them, it is explained to them they won’t get their usual ‘hit’ without the nicotine. 

There is some evidence to suggest that not all sellers are as transparent, as when The Avondhu went online to trial the purchase of a nicotine-free vape, the company in question ‘helpfully’ included a ‘free nicotine booster’ with the package, without us requesting this.


As nicotine is a highly addictive chemical, it will be very difficult to kick the habit of vaping if someone starts on the products that contain nicotine. Furthermore, the impact of nicotine on the developing teenage brain can, according to research, ‘derange the normal course of brain maturation and have lasting consequences for cognitive ability, mental health and even personality’.

The products themselves and the associated packaging is slick and very attractive, marketed to attract a younger generation. Many of the boxes are in sunset shades of orange, yellow and pink, and the smell is generally appealing. Most flavours are fruit or dessert-based – including Bubblegum; clearly targeted at a younger audience.


At St Colman’s College in Fermoy, a spokesperson told The Avondhu that vaping and e-cigarette use is treated the same as smoking and is ultimately not allowed on the school grounds.

According to principal Sean Lane, there is a ‘zero tolerance’ policy in place when it comes to smoking, vaping and e-cigarettes, but noted that the latter is harder to enforce when compared with traditional cigarettes.

“The problem with vaping is, compared to traditional smoking where they have to take out a cigarette, light it, and then dispose of it, the immediate nature of vaping is a big issue.

“We’re very much aware of it and do try to rule it out and speak with students about it. It is an issue with teenagers. We found that smoking was dying out, but now with vaping, it’s coming back more and more,” he said.

Mr Lane also noted some concern regarding parental awareness of the issue, as he highlighted the possibility of vaping and e-cigarettes resulting in a rise in smoking amongst young people.

“It could possibly popularise smoking again. Parents are, I don’t think, as aware as they should be of the danger or potential for this to become a lifelong habit,” he added.

Loreto Secondary School, Fermoy also confirmed to The Avondhu that the use of e-cigarettes and vaping is treated as smoking and is therefore ‘banned’ on the school grounds.


An award winning investigation conducted by Kilworth Transition Year student Leah Nolan, found that 36% of adolescent respondents to her survey were tempted by or curious to try e-cigarettes after hearing a content creator or influencer talk about the product.

More worryingly, the study found that 23% of survey respondents, aged from under 11 to over 19 (secondary school aged), have used e-cigarettes and 35% are ‘lifetime’ e-cigarette users (‘lifetime’ e-cigarette users’ is defined within the survey as those who are regular users and have used one within the past 30 days).

Locally, The Avondhu has witnessed significant e-cigarette or ‘vape’ use by young people across the area, while several social media accounts of local youths display images and videos of underage vaping. One 12-year-old The Avondhu spoke with said that while she didn’t see any of her peers vaping, her Snapchat was littered with offers from others to buy vapes for the young would-be consumer.

The Loreto Secondary School, Fermoy student was recently awarded the Special Award from the Health Research Board and the Intermediate Individual Award under her category at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition for her study ‘Vaping Under The Influence: An investigation into the impact of social media on adolescent attitudes towards vaping’.


Not only does Leah’s investigation shed light on the impact social media has on adolescent vaping, but also the attitudes towards vaping.

Out of 2,086 secondary school students surveyed, while only 13% said that they have ever smoked, 22.9% had vaped.

“A clear trend regarding the influence of age is that the percentage of each age group that has tried e-cigarettes increases with age,” Leah said.

Worryingly, some 5.1% (24 respondents) claimed that they had started using e-cigarettes aged under 11, while the majority of users (21.9% or 104 respondents) stated that they began using e-cigarettes aged just 14.

Survey respondents were largely from within the county of Cork, with 842 reporting to live in Cork, 113 in Limerick and 23 in Tipperary, with the remainder coming from other counties.

According to Leah’s investigation, 54% of survey respondents said that their reason for using e-cigarettes was ‘curiosity’, 38.2% said ‘for fun’, 32.9% said because their ‘friends vape’, while 30.2% said they ‘like the flavours’.

When asked about the places where respondents use e-cigarettes, the majority (188 respondents) stated ‘when outside with friends (at a park, playground etc)’.

182 survey respondents said that they use e-cigarettes at home, 123 said at teenage discos, and 119 said ‘at another person’s home’.

Alarmingly, some 83 respondents said that they use e-cigarettes in school.


Respondents were also asked where they most commonly saw other adolescents using e-cigarettes, to which the majority said ‘when outside with friends’, which was closely followed by 937 respondents stating ‘at school’ and 832 stating at teenage discos.

One parent The Avondhu spoke with, noted that after their teenage son attended a local disco for entry-level secondary school students late last year, the talking point afterwards was about the significant amount of vaping took place at the event, with her child describing that “everyone was at it (vaping)”.

When querying their son further on the issue of obtaining vape products, the student indicated that a supplier over 18 in a local town takes orders on WhatsApp from secondary school students to satisfy the demand. As simple as that…

See Part 2 next week when The Avondhu speaks with other secondary schools in the area, probes further into the littering problem and speaks to a student who sees that most teenagers do it “for image”.


(i) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/recent-research-sheds-new-light-on-why-nicotine-is-so-addictive/

Other sources: The Avondhu

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