WITH its brightly coloured superhero wrapping, the vape looked ‘cool’ to an 11-year-old Sydney Prew.
So many of his friends were trying e-cigarettes that the then primary school pupil felt he couldn’t say no.
Now, six years on, the 17-year-old music student from London is warning other children not to be seduced by the allure of these potentially dangerous products – claiming he felt “addicted” and developed a “smoker’s cough.”
Both head teachers and trading standards officers are warning about a disturbing rise in youngsters inhaling nicotine via vape pens.
Just this week Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s removed the Elf Bar 600 series vapes from sale, after they were found to contain 50 per cent more than the legal limit for nicotine e-liquid.
And yesterday the Local Government Association warned strict new measures to regulate the display and marketing of vaping products in the same way as tobacco are needed to crack down on a rise in stores selling to children.
It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under 18 in the UK, but the amount of kids aged 11-17 using them has risen in the past couple of years from four per cent to seven per cent.
When The Sun sent out a 14-year-old boy in Hull to see if it was possible to purchase a vape, it didn’t take long for one unscrupulous shopkeeper to sell him one.
The government allows the sale of electronic cigarettes on the grounds that they are less dangerous than traditional ones and are seen as a way of weaning smokers off the fatal habit.
But three deaths in Britain have been linked to vaping, and recently a doctor revealed that a 17-year-old was being fed through a tube after inhaling smoke from vapes caused lung damage.
A half-a-billion e-cigarettes are sold in the UK every year to an estimated 3.2million users.
Shops across the country put flavoured, fun-looking disposable vapes right in front of the counter to tempt more customers.
Sydney was one of those lured in.
He reveals: “I tried my first vape when I was 11 and in primary school. I was hanging out with mates and older boys offered me a drag on a vape with a Marvel comic design. It looked cool, wrapped in comic superheroes.
“The pressure to say yes was huge. I knew if I said no I’d be bullied and teased and so I tried it.
“It tasted sweet and seeing the comic wrapping made me think it was a kids toy.”
I tried my first vape when I was 11 and in primary school. I was hanging out with mates and older boys offered me a drag on a vape with a Marvel comic design. It looked cool… like a kids toy
Staff at schools up and down the country have reported an increase in vaping, with children starting around the age of 11.
Last month Baxter College, a secondary school in Kidderminster, Worcs, spent £4,000 to install sensors in its toilets to catch pupils using them.
In Carmarthenshire, Wales, head teachers sent out letters to parents warning about the dangers of the habit.
Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor at school leaders’ union NAHT, tells The Sun: “Worryingly, vaping has become normalised for some young people and schools are dealing with incidents of vaping on school grounds and in school buildings.
“Our secondary school members are concerned about the safety of vapes being used and have highlighted that the equipment is easily bought and can be very small and easily hidden.”
Sydney knows all too well how tough it is to kick the habit.
At one point he was sharing five vapes a day with mates – which equates to 100-200 puffs a day – and selling personal items to fund his habit.
He says: “Learning to say no to a vape is one of the hardest things I have ever done.
“Vapes became an almost daily part of my life. Whenever I was hanging out with mates we’d pass around vapes.
“They’re addictive, and so many young people in primary and secondary school are being fooled into thinking they are cool.
Vapes became an almost daily part of my life. Whenever I was hanging out with mates we’d pass around vapes
“There’s such a huge array of vapes with flavours like bubblegum and apple flavours – they seem innocent.”
Government guidelines state that e-cigarettes should not be marketed in a way that resembles food.
The national limit for nicotine liquid in a vape is currently 2ml – which equates to a maximum 2 per cent nicotine strength.
But that is more than enough to do serious harm.
The Elf Bar 600 series removed from supermarket shelves this week were found by a Daily Mail investigation to contain between 3ml and 3.2ml each.
Smoker’s cough and depression
Gradually, Sydney realised the damage inhaling nicotine was doing to his health.
“By the time I was 14 my school work started deteriorating,” he says.
“I wasn’t concentrating, I was feeling depressed and my grades dropped.
“I had a phlegmy smoker’s cough and hanging with my mates and vaping seemed more important than my grades.”
Some shops sold vapes to Sydney, or he swapped them with his mates.
He says: “My mates and I would go in wearing normal clothes and buy items, add in the vape, and no one questioned us.
“It was confidence – but most stores knew we were underage and still sold to us. It’s all about making money.”
When we visited several shops in Hull with Jed, a 14 year old from the city, most asked for ID and then refused to serve him.
But one, Incredible Vapes, sold him an Elf Bar vape easily and without question.
The shopkeeper became angry when told he was under age.
He shouted at Sun man Alun Palmer: “That’s impossible. I didn’t serve him. You are lying.”
Jed says: “I know people my age who do vape, so it is accessible.”
A survey of 3,000 secondary school teachers revealed that half have caught a pupil vaping in school.
Sarah Hannafin from the NAHT says: “More must be done to prevent under 18s getting vaping products in the first place, whether they are buying them themselves or getting adults to purchase them on their behalf.
“The responsibility of retailers not to market or sell these products for use by under 18s is therefore critical.”
While many think vaping is relatively harmless, the medical profession insists the devices should only be used to help people quit smoking.
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, says: “Vaping should only be seen as a way to give up smoking, with the intention to then give up vaping.
“Evidence shows it is safer than smoking because it exposes users to fewer toxins and at lower levels – but it isn’t without risk.
“GPs would never encourage non-smokers, particularly young people, to start vaping.
“It can be an effective method to help people stop smoking, but people should have the aim to eventually stop vaping too to prevent any potential long-term health risks.”
Thankfully, Sydney’s dad – a former heavy smoker – recognised his cough was a sign of nicotine use and helped him get off vapes two years ago.
He recalls: “My dad heard my cough and asked if I was ok. I came clean and, with his and my mum’s help, I managed to give up vapes.
“It was tough, and now I am committed to warning other teens and helping them.
“I know how hard it is to say no to trying a vape.”