University works with teens on vaping education

A scene from the VR experience
A scene from the VR experience

A team from the University of Southampton has worked with teenagers in Hampshire to design educational resources that warn of the dangers of vaping.

They have produced teaching materials and lesson plans for use in the classroom, along with a virtual reality (VR) experience that emphasises the peer pressure teens feel regarding vaping - and the health dangers of the habit.

The materials have been released in the same week as the government announced a ban on disposable vapes in an effort to tackle the rise in youth vaping.

The team from the university’s LifeLab, a teaching lab that provides in-school and in-lab sessions for school students on the science behind health messages, worked with teenagers from Southampton and wider Hampshire.

Dr Kath Woods-Townsend , LifeLab Programme Manager, said: "We welcome the ban on disposable vapes, which can only be a good thing, but more needs to be done to educate our young people about why vaping is dangerous. We have co-created these resources with teenagers themselves to ensure the messages are effective, engaging and meaningful to the young people we are trying to reach."

Madeleine Harris, 17, is one of LifeLab’s Youth Panel members who was involved in creating the resources. She said: "This is important because of the high numbers of young people vaping. It’s become a social activity for young people and, if you are surrounded by people who want to vape, you are more likely to want to vape to fit in with the group. I’m very proud of this work and hope it will have a lot of impact."

The VR experience takes the headset-wearer on a walk down a city street to see if they can ’escape the vape’ and spot danger zones. The participant is bombarded with advertising and peer pressure to try vaping.

The ban on disposable vapes comes following a government call for evidence last year, which the LifeLab team, including its Youth Panel, submitted a response to, informed by youth focus groups.

John Holloway , Professor of Allergy and Respiratory Genetics, has conducted research on the impact of environmental exposures on teenagers’ health. He said: "Our research into the effects of exposures such as smoking and obesity of future parents on their children’s health has highlighted how critical the health behaviours of teenagers are, not only to their own health, but to those of future generations to come. Engaging resources like these that are designed by teenagers themselves, together with policy changes such as the ban on disposable vapes, will help to improve the health of our population for decades to come."

On LifeLab’s vaping resources, Runyararo Mudzamiri, PSHE Coordinator and EMPOWER Lead at Cantell School in Southampton, said: "Because it was designed by teens for teens, the presentation is both modern and engaging. Teachers found the resources easy to use and make bespoke and age appropriate to their classes. Our year 7-9s have benefited from using this great resource."

LifeLab is a partnership between the University of Southampton, the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, and University Hospital Southampton. For more information about LifeLab and how your school can get involved, visit LifeLab Online.