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Teens use virtual reality to warn of vaping dangers

LifeLab Youth Panel members. From left: Vishaan Vohra (16), Sebastian Bannister (15), Jasmine Aburrow (14), Madeleine Harris (17) and Tehya Coak (15)

Hampshire teenagers have produced a virtual reality (VR) experience to help young people ‘escape the vape.’

It emphasises the peer pressure teens feel to give vaping a go and the health dangers of the habit. They have also produced teaching materials and lesson plans for use in schools.

The resources were co-created by a youth panel from the LifeLab programme.

LifeLab is run in partnership between the University of Southampton (UoS), the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and University Hospital Southampton.

The materials have been released in the same week as the government announced a ban on disposable vapes to protect children’s health.

Reaching young people

LifeLab is a state-of-the-art teaching laboratory for school students to learn the science behind health messages. The team worked with teenagers from Southampton and wider Hampshire on this project.

Dr Kath Woods-Townsend, LifeLab Programme Manager and part of the NIHR Southampton BRC, said:

“We welcome the ban on disposable vapes. This can only be a good thing, but more needs to be done to educate our young people about why vaping is dangerous.

“We have co-created these resources with teenagers themselves to ensure the messages are effective, engaging and meaningful to the young people we are trying to reach.”

LifeLab Youth Panels actively involve young people in creating and delivering solutions that could improve their own health and that of their peers. They are employed by the University and paid for their time.

Madeleine Harris, 17, was proud to be part of the Youth Panel. She said:

“This is important because of the high numbers of young people vaping. It’s become a social activity for young people and, if you are surrounded by people who want to vape, you are more likely to want to vape to fit in with the group. I’m very proud of this work and hope it will have a lot of impact.”

A scene from the vaping VR experience

‘Modern and engaging’ resources

The VR experience takes the headset-wearer on a walk down a city street to see if they can ‘escape the vape’ and spot danger zones. The participant comes across advertising and peer pressure to try vaping.

The ban on disposable vapes comes following a government call for evidence last year. LifeLab submitted a response to this call which was informed by its youth focus groups.

John Holloway is a Professor of Allergy and Respiratory Genetics at UoS and part of the NIHR Southampton BRC. He has conducted research on the impact of environmental exposures on teenagers’ health. Prof Holloway said:

“Our research into the effects of exposures such as smoking and obesity of future parents on their children’s health has highlighted how critical the health behaviours of teenagers are. They are important not only to their own health, but to those of future generations to come.

“Engaging resources like these that are designed by teenagers themselves, together with policy changes such as the ban on disposable vapes, will help to improve the health of our population for decades to come.”

Runyararo Mudzamiri, from Cantell School in Southampton, has used LifeLab’s vaping resources. She said:

“Because it was designed by teens for teens, the presentation is both modern and engaging. Teachers found the resources easy to use and make bespoke and age appropriate to their classes. Our year 7-9s have benefited from using this great resource.”

Visit the LifeLab website to find out more.

Image credit: University of Southampton


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