Vaping among schoolkids is ‘bigger than smoking ever was’ according to East Ayrshire's most senior education official.

The authority's Labour group leader, Councillor Maureen McKay, asked East Ayrshire Council’s head of education, Linda McAulay-Griffiths, about the increasing proliferation of vaping among young people, asking whether it was tied in with the impact of covid and associated issues like anxiety.

Speaking at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, Cllr McKay said: “There is something significant in relation to the uptake of vaping among young people, particularly within our secondary schools and how that has a real impact.

“Is this an outcome in relation to long covid? Is this evidencing young people’s anxiety levels?

She highlighted research indicting the development of a condition known as popcorn lung, which involves the scarring of lung tissue.

“How are we responding to that?” she asked.

Ms McAuley-Griffiths responded: “This is something that we are acutely concerned about in the service, both in regards to the availability of vaping equipment, and the allure, given the colour and flavour associated with the vaping culture.

“It is absolutely a culture that is on the rise, both in and around schools in terms of the age of the young people, but also socially.

“In terms of local shops, this culture is apparent.”

She added: “I think, falsely, some young people think there are no health risks associated with vaping and see it as a healthier alternative.

“We have leads in health and wellbeing who are addressing the personal and social education (PSE) curriculum to look at vaping specifically.

“Quite a lot of parents are rightly concerned about the vaping culture.

“Our campus [police] officers have some good up to date 'intel'. Rather than the ‘wagging finger’ approach, it is about education, making young people aware that this doesn’t come without risk.

“I am not sure whether this is an output from covid and stress. but what I would probably recognise is that vaping is bigger than smoking has ever been, from a school perspective, and in terms of head teachers having to deal with this on a day-to-day basis.

Council leader Douglas Reid said the vaping in schools was a ‘wee bit of uncharted territory’.

The SNP councillor added: “I had only heard of football teams banning their players, youth teams from vaping.

“I hadn’t heard of popcorn lung. It is all very worrying.”

Martin Egan, a senior manager at East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “We have now got a specific programme of work around vaping, in terms of engagement with individual young people, with discussion around the various risks.”

Councillor Reid asked whether the issue could be addressed through licensing.

David Mitchell, the council’s chief governance officer, replied: “[Shops] are already subject to regulation. They are age restricted at 18, but it is not restricted to licensed stores.

“We do enforce regulations. There are a number of premises we have repeatedlyvisited and will continue to visit.”

Mr Mitchell outlined the difficulty in successfully carrying out investigations using test purchases, with shops less likely to sell to someone they don’t know.

He added that new approaches were being developed and said: “I won’t go into detail and spoil the surprise for some of the operators who think they are going to continue with this.

“We will continue to identify and enforce the law and report for prosecution .”

Cllr McKay reiterated her concerns around the underlying reasons for the uptake of vaping, adding: “We want young persons’ success and ongoing development into the workforce and into having healthy working lives.”