Vape stores have become more common than many fast food chains near schools, sparking fears of an epidemic of addicted teens.
At least one in four New Zealand schools - 894 - are within 1km of a vape store, and at least 77 are within 250m, Ministry of Health data collated by the Herald reveals.
And an estimated one in five secondary students are addicted to vaping, according to research by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation, who surveyed more than 19,000 students in Years 9 to 13.
The revelations come after the Government declared that people currently aged under 14 would not be able to buy tobacco legally from the end of next year, as New Zealand's Smokefree 2025 target edges closer.
READ IN-DEPTH FEATURE: Vaping: From a tool to help you quit to an epidemic of addicted teens.
Doctors warn the dangers of e-cigarettes to young people can't be ignored, with one saying nicotine vaping is addictive and suggested increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
"The effects seem to be more long-term and there are many unknowns. Any damage to lung tissue ultimately reduces your capacity to work, live and exercise," Waikato ED doctor John Bonning said.
Paediatric respiratory physician Professor Philip Pattemore said: "Vaping with nicotine has been consistently associated with depression, ADHD and conduct disorders in adolescents, and nicotine exposure has been shown to impact learning and memory."
Principals also fear the effects of the vaping epidemic on students.
"As a school, we are dealing with vaping issues onsite on a weekly basis," Rangitoto College associate principal Peter Morton said.
The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation survey found 80 per cent of students who had taken up the habit were doing so with very high nicotine levels. Only 2.8 per cent of vapers reported using zero nicotine vapes.
When Kahu Pihema first sucked on a vape at aged 14, she didn't see any harm. Now 16, she's addicted.
Living with asthma and speaking with her mum's consent, she said: "I didn't realise I was hooked until I tried to stop and became really sick, to the point I couldn't go to school. After a month of trying I started again."
Latest figures show there are 562 specialist vape stores across New Zealand, not including dairies and supermarkets that also sell vaping products.
Herald analysis found they tended to be near lower decile schools. There are 120 near decile one schools and 66 near decile 10.
Hamilton Girls' High School has six stores within 1km, Takapuna Primary has five and Pacific Advance Secondary School in Ōtāhuhu three.
"[Vape stores] are interesting looking and colourful with great names. They shouldn't be so close to schools because it's just easy access," Asthma and Respiratory Foundation chief executive Letitia Harding said.
When the Herald put these concerns to the Government, Duty Minister Carmel Sepuloni said any reports of tamariki vaping was "absolutely concerning" and they were taking action to address it.
"Work is under way to discourage youth from vaping. A new health promotion programme from the Ministry of Health, expected to be under way in March 2022, will be aimed at rangatahi and focused on supporting youth to make the decision not to vape," Sepuloni said.
However, Sepuloni suggested she wasn't completely satisfied with the ARF survey saying
it wasn't clear how many young people were vaping and referenced the 2019/20 New Zealand Health Survey, which found around 5.8 per cent of teenagers surveyed, between 15 and 17 years old, vaped daily.
Ministry of Health group manager for population health and prevention, Jane Chambers, said concerns about vaping products being sold near schools were raised as the Smokefree Environments (Vaping) Amendment Bill 2020 passed through Parliament.
"However, the [select] committee did not recommend that a prohibition should be placed on the sale of vaping products close to schools. We know most young people obtain vaping products from friends and family, as they do with cigarettes," Chambers said.
This legislation took 620 days to get over the line after then Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa promised to regulate the industry in November 2018. It banned the sale of vaping products to those under 18, limited the sale of flavours and made it illegal to vape in a car with children.
The ministry was not aware of any "robust evidence of a significant problem with dairies selling vaping products unlawfully to minors", she added.
"Anyone who is aware of any retailer selling vaping products to minors should make a complaint to the local public health unit, which employs Smokefree enforcement officers."