Disposable 'vaping' devices are creeping into the pencil cases of western NSW children as young as 11, who are purchasing them through the 'online black market'.
E-cigarettes, most commonly referred to as 'vapes' are becoming increasingly attractive to a growing number of primary school-aged children across western NSW, Nyngan and Broken Hill.
While the vaping craze is commonly associated with high school-aged children, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia director Paul Dillon said he's not surprised it's becoming popular among primary school aged children.
"It's getting younger and younger and younger. I've been working with a couple of schools with Year 5 students who are accessing these [devices]," he said.
Mr Dillon told the Daily Liberal he's witnessed students at one school wearing nicotine patches because they've become nicotine dependentfrom the devices. He's also raised concerns about the long term effects of the vapes, which are largely unknown.
"Realistically we haven't see nicotine dependent teenagers, certainly they exist, but it hasn't been a big issue since the 70s and 80s," Mr Dillon said.
"So most of the nicotine treatment services or help in that area are targeting adults, so this is a new area and something that's been drenched up again after many years."
Popular vaping device HQD Cuvies are small, shaped like a highlighter, and come in bright colours. The devices come in flavours like grape and fairy floss and boast "mouthfuls of fruity flavour".
However these devices contain five per cent nicotine, which is about the equivalent of a strong pack of cigarettes. It is illegal to sell these disposable devices over the counter in Australia.
"NSW Health did a study where they looked at the ones that were just meant to be flavour, with no nicotine in them, but many of them actually found out they did contain nicotine," Mr Dillon said.
"Quite often, particularly the younger kids, are vaping what they believe to be flavours, but they actually contain nicotine."
The Daily Liberal has been told, by anonymous sources, kids are getting their hands on these devices, under the counter through convenience stores and petrol stations but also through social media, particularly Snapchat due to it anonymity.
"Snapchat is really easy way of doing it," Mr Dillon said.
"Certainly I've spoken to schools where very young people are contacting people on Snapchat and meeting older men who are selling them in car parks and train stations or places like that.
"There's a whole pile of issues with that as well - meeting strange people and buying things off them as well, it's fraught with problems."
In NSW it's illegal to sell e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18 and carries a hefty penalty with fines up to $55,000.
Many NSW schools are sending out warnings to parents in school newsletters trying to stamp out vaping in young children early.
The NSW Department of Education advised e-cigarettes and vapes are banned in schools and treated the same as tobacco. Caught in possession of these devices has resulted in some students being suspended from school.
"The major problem is because they're so new, we haven't developed prevention measures for them, or how to deal with them effectively particularly in the school context," Mr Dillon said.
"Certainly we've seen lots of kids who are being suspended from school because they have been caught vaping during school," Mr Dillon said.
"It's an issue schools are struggling with how to deal with effectively, because you just don't want to keep suspending kids, that's not fixing the issue."