Last Updated on 25th November 2020

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have issued a warning after some young people in Northern Ireland have become seriously ill after inhaling a substance through a vape device.

What’s the issue?

A PSNI statement read: “Police are currently investigating reports in Ballyclare, Antrim, and Newry of young people becoming ill after inhaling a substance from a vape type device.

The police have warned that there are likely unreported incidents linked to the substance and are urging vigilance among anyone who will come into contact with young people.

While this substance has not been named, similar reports across the UK have indicated several children and adults becoming Ill in similar circumstances, after vaping synthetic cannabis (spice).

What is vaping?

‘Vaping’ is inhaling vapor which is generated from heating up liquid nicotine (or e-Liquid) and is done so with an e-cigarette or ‘Vape’ or ‘Vape-pen’. While this can be an effective way to quit smoking it is not without risks.

What are the risks?

Please note that we do not currently know the exact substance that is making young people sick in Northern Ireland.

Vaping includes the inhalation of nicotine and which is a highly addictive substance.

Vaping has become popular with young people, (even those who didn’t previously use tobacco), and buying liquid nicotine can be expensive. It is not uncommon for users to buy cheap liquid, which may have been imported from various countries and as such has not passed standardised UK safety checks. These products can contain harmful substances that might make people sick.

Young people may not know what exactly they are inhaling if they have bought products that have not passed UK safety checks. Unregulated products could also cause lung damage and breathing difficulties.

But parents and safeguarding professionals should know that users can also learn how to make their own vape oil by buying constituent components freely available online.

Harm Reduction Advice

The sale and use of vapes by anyone under the age of 18 is prohibited by law, but we understand young people may still gain access to these products; 

  • Where young people and adults are accessing nicotine oil they should make sure it is from a known and trusted brand
  • All labels should correctly state the nicotine content and constituent ingredients, this is typically an indicator that it has passed various safety checks 

  • Young people should NEVER use vape oil without warning labels (this is an indication that it is not legitimate) 

  • If you’re concerned about a young person in your care, have a conversation with them about the potential dangers and risks of using nicotine products and how these are highly addictive and can create dependence 

If a child or young person in your care takes ill after vaping an unidentified oil you should seek urgent medical advice from your local hospital, in an emergency call 999.  

Further Support

  • Check out the NHS under 18s guide to quit smoking here 

  • For more information on young people and e-cigarettes, check out a recent publication from the Action on Smoking and Health

  • For more information on the synthetic drug ‘Spice’, find NHS guidance here

  • For a full list of drug treatment and support services, check out Drugs and Alcohol NI