LAST week, I held a debate in Parliament to highlight the issues our community faces from vaping. And I was pleased to receive a robust response from the Health Minister.

We all know smoking is bad and it is accepted wisdom that vaping is better than smoking. What no one anticipated was the alarming rise in children vaping. Some countries do not permit vaping and others restrict the sale of vapes significantly.

Vapes are for adults, yet almost 20 per cent of children have tried them. Simply put, they should never have been able to acquire them.

However, the problem in our community is not just an early addiction to nicotine but it’s the underlying problems that many young users are not aware of.

Apart from the range of colours names and flavours of vapes that are available at pocket money prices, there are illegal vapes widely available in Darlington. Illegal due to their tank size, some with 10,000 puffs – equivalent to multiple packets of cigarettes – and illegal due to the nicotine strength. We have had incidents of children hospitalised through the use of these products which can contain lead, varnish remover and other poisonous substances.

Often sold by traders who have seemingly popped up over night, children are being used as mules to fetch and carry these products which are often stored off the premises in the event of a raid by trading standards. Children are being used as salesmen to sell them in the school playground and, in the most shocking of cases, children are being groomed for sex using vapes as a reward.

Every parent in our community should be alive to the dangers to their children.

Darlington trading standards have been doing a great job tackling the problem in conjunction with the police. They are monitoring many premises, seizing illegal vapes and illegal tobacco (that in itself is another huge problem) and closing premises down.

But it is like a game of whack a mole – as soon as one trader closes another opens and the problem repeats.

in order to break these criminal gangs who are exploiting our children, police and trading standards need information. It is only through intelligence about who, when and where the vapes were acquired that a picture can be compiled. I encourage every parent to be vigilant and share information with the police to make our town a little safer.

In Parliament this issue is getting renewed attention, and a new Act of Parliament will be brought forward very soon. I want to see controls on the flavours and packaging of vapes. I want to see vapes removed from display in the way tobacco has been, and I want to see significant on-the-spot fines and immediate premises closure orders for the perpetrators.

I know The Northern Echo’s Phoebe Abruzzese has been highlighting this issue in recent weeks in this newspaper and I would encourage every parent to take note. Working together, helping the police and our trading standards department, we can rid help to rid our town of this illegal activity which exploits our children.