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27 January 2014, 13:35
Headteachers should ban e-cigarettes from their schools to avoid giving children the message that using them is a safe activity, it has been suggested.
The Haywards Heath-based National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which represents the majority of primary school leaders, said it intends to advise its members to prohibit anyone from bringing the tobacco-free products on to school grounds.
The Government announced this weekend it is to bring in new legislation to ban under-18s from buying electronic cigarettes.
Under the move, due to be introduced this week as an amendment to the Children and Families Bill, 'proxy purchasing' - knowingly buying tobacco on behalf of someone under 18 will also be banned.
The announcement comes as e-cigarettes are enjoying a boom in sales, with an estimated 1.3 million people in the UK thought to use them.
The NAHT said the government's move was a "great step forward" but warned that adults would not be banned from bringing electronic cigarettes onto school premises.
The union suggested that heads are concerned that if adults can bring e-cigarettes into schools, then pupils will be introduced to the idea of smoking them - known as "vaping" - and copy the behaviour.
While many people view the tobacco-free devices as a better alternative to traditional cigarettes, health experts remain deeply concerned about the long-term effects they could have on users' health.
E-cigarettes provide a hit of nicotine - a highly addictive drug - and some fear they reinforce the behaviour of smoking, making it harder to give up in the long term.
Sally Bates, a headteacher and chair of the NAHT's policy committee said: "At the moment anyone 'vaping' has no way of knowing what they are putting into their body. We accept there may be some benefits as a means to wean people off cigarettes, but that does not make e-cigarettes safe.
"Nicotine is a toxin which has been linked to agitation and blood vessel disease. The long-term effects of inhaling it in the form of e-cigarettes is unknown. Therefore children should not be allowed to form the opinion that it is a safe thing to do.
"It is particularly concerning that these products can appeal to a younger market with fruit, candy and alcohol flavours available. Schools should send a clear message to pupils and parents that the use of any kind of cigarette, electronic or otherwise, is not acceptable on school premises."
Headteachers already have the authority to ban items from school, so prohibiting e-cigarettes would not need further action from the Government, the NAHT said.
Currently there is no restriction on people under the age of 18 buying e-cigarettes, and they are hugely popular among teenagers in Briton.
But it is feared that children are turning to the smokeless devices - designed to help users quit - before moving on to traditional cigarettes.
Many secondary schools across the UK have already resorted to banning e-cigarettes over fears they are encouraging pupils to take up smoking.
Public Health Minister and Conservative MP Jane Ellison said: "Two thirds of smokers say they smoked regularly before they were 18, showing that this is an addiction largely taken up in childhood.
"We must do all we can to help children lead a healthy life. That's why this measure is designed to help protect children from the dangers of being bought cigarettes by irresponsible adults - something that I hope concerned parents and responsible retailers will welcome."
England's chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: "We do not yet know the harm that e-cigarettes can cause to adults let alone to children, but we do know they are not risk free.
"E-cigarettes can produce toxic chemicals and the amount of nicotine and other chemical constituents and contaminants, including vaporised flavourings, varies between products meaning they could be extremely damaging to young people's health."