While young people used to smoke cigarettes, they now smoke e-cigarettes, studies show. Estonian experts say children often try them for the first time in first grade.
Studies show almost a third of schoolchildren aged 11–15 in Estonia have tried e-cigarettes. Tiina Kuusik, senior specialist in the field of alcohol and tobacco at the National Institute for Health Development (Tervise Arengu Instituut), said young people often start smoking with e-cigarettes.
"Trying the first tobacco and nicotine product starts with an e-cigarette, then it is possible to move on to trying other products later," said Kuusik,
Mari-Liis Sults, director of the Tallinn Art High School (Tallinna Kunstigümnaasium), said last year a 12-year-old, or fifth-grade student, sold e-cigarettes to students at the school.
"They are usually at an age where the Police cannot punish them. If they are caught, they are simply reprimanded and spoken to. There is no real punishment for them," she said.
"We also have some parents who do not care if we tell them that their child was carrying an e-cigarette. It doesn't matter, they don't care. They smoke in the family and then it is normal that the child starts smoking too," Sults added.
Brit Mesipuu, a parent and educator, said some children in Estonia try e-cigarettes in first grade. Mesipuu gives talks in schools about both digital competence and e-cigarettes. Yesterday, a teacher told her how a boy had tried an e-cigarette and passed out.
Mesipuu also gave an example of another school where the principal saw smoke rising from a bush outside a school window and found three first-grade boys smoking e-cigarettes. The boys then offered the strawberry-flavored e-cigarette to the principal. They did not understand that what they were doing was forbidden.
Kuusik said effective prevention is the most important thing so that young people consume fewer e-cigarettes.
"This kind of prevention, based on risk and protective factors, addresses the root causes of the problem. The focus would be on good family relationships, the ability to cope at school, and a safe environment for young people. It is essential that this prevention is long-term," she explained.
The UK announced this week that it would ban disposable e-cigarettes to "protect children's health". Kuusik said Estonia could take the same steps.
"We see that the use of these products is particularly prevalent among young people and is damaging their health. There is also an environmental problem with disposable e-cigarettes, namely waste. A lot of this waste is generated and people are not putting it in the right places. Therefore, if there were no such products, the problem would be reduced," she said.
Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright