The promise of e-cigarettes and vapes is increasingly being used by criminal drug gangs targeting children and young people, warns charity St Giles Trust on National Child Exploitation Awareness Day (18 March).
Teams working at the frontline with children and young people involved in or at risk of child criminal exploitation – typically by county line gangs – have reported that vapes, which can have long-term impacts on cardiovascular health, are now increasingly promised alongside more traditional methods such as cash, trainers and food.
The vapes are not always solely for personal use and are sometimes sold by children and young people for cash. Our team in Wales reported one boy of 11 selling vapes to help his family through the cost-of-living crisis.
Vaping has rapidly gained popularity amongst children and young people in recent years, with the NHS reporting a 9% rise in the number of 11-15 year olds who are vaping. Although vaping itself is legal, it is illegal to sell vapes to anyone under the age of 18.
St Giles Trust provides services across London, the Midlands, Yorkshire and Wales which help young people out of county line exploitation and prevent those at risk from becoming involved. It uses professionally trained caseworkers who have direct, personal experience of the issues themselves. This approach uses a mix of their professional skills and lived experience to provide services which are credible and relatable to the young people they are reaching.
Evan Jones, Director of Criminal Exploitation Development at St Giles Trust, said:
“The use of vapes tells us that the way children are criminally exploited and groomed into county lines activity are constantly evolving and drug gangs are finding new ways to target children and young people. Our teams are at the forefront of this and working hard to try and help young people stay safe and positively engaged.
“The cost-of-living crisis is making children and young people more vulnerable, and cuts to public spending are impacting on the support services that can help. All of us need to work together, share our collective expertise and recognise the dangers that children and young people face, particularly those who are already facing adverse circumstances.”
Last year financial year (April 2021-March 2022), St Giles Trust helped 223 children and young people exit from county lines and reached 105,629 people through schools-based prevention work which raises awareness of issues around drugs, exploitation and serious violence.