‘Vaping Areas’ In Schools Could Help Teens Manage Their Nicotine Addictions, NSW Inquiry Hears

An unusual pitch for how to decrease teenagers vaping in NSW has been heard by a government inquiry, as the concept of designated “vaping areas” in schools was suggested. I can imagine it already. “Awww hey miss, can I go to the Vape Room for a quick hit?”

Dr Colin Mendelsohn, the founding chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA), appeared at the parliamentary inquiry into NSW’s vaping regulations, where he presented the unorthodox method of how to reduce the harm of teens vaping.

Mendelsohn told the inquiry that ATHRA’s concept of “vaping areas” in schools was a “compassionate solution” that acknowledged how difficult it is for kids, and anyone really, to overcome a nicotine addiction cold-turkey.

What he suggested was that schools could create “a designated outdoor vaping area” that students suffering withdrawals can go to, so long as they are registered for the area, have written parental permission, and are over 16-years-old.

“This is not about freely allowing this. This is about accepting that some kids are addicted and will continue to vape no matter what we do, and we want to minimise the harm to them and the harm to their classroom,” said the former ATHRA chairman.

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Mendelsohn worked as a general practitioner for 27 years, specialising in quitting smoking and tobacco harm reduction, and stated that he believes “vaping won’t be as appealing to teens if they are allowed to do it.”

He also argued in the inquiry that there are “much greater risks than vaping” which young people are exposed to. He also said that vaping is a better alternative than children smoking, and that “no one has ever died from vaping nicotine”.

These statements were disputed by other health and education experts at the inquiry.

“There is no definitive evidence that vaping causes cancer, but I’d take caution at putting a full stop after that sentence, simply because we don’t have the duration of time to be able to prove that,” Dr Tracey O’Brien, NSW’s Chief Cancer Officer, told the inquiry.

“We do know that there are 200 odd chemicals contained with vapes, and many of those chemicals are known to cause cancer.”

The education experts in the inquiry also highlighted that they were concerned that an allocated vaping area would have adverse effects on the behaviour of students.

Mendelsohn also presented other alternatives to his “vaping area” solution for students with nicotine withdrawal, such as allowing them to use nicotine gum or nicotine pouches during school hours.

In 2021 it was revealed that the charity Mendelsohn founded, the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, received assistance from two vape companies from 2017 to 2019. He stepped down as chairman in 2020.

The Federal Government began its crackdown on nicotine vapes at the start of 2024, with single-use vapes no longer being imported into Australia.

To learn more about vaping and its regulations, check out the PEDESTRIAN TELEVISION investigation series Vape Nation, which includes an entire episode on the best ways to quit vaping — without the need for designated vaping areas in your school.