Schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are buying devices that resemble smoke detectors to combat the use of e-cigarettes or vapes by students in bathrooms and other places without cameras.
It’s illegal to sell e-cigarettes to those under 18, but about one in four adolescents in the U.S. have tried them, according to the 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
“Our concern — and I think the concern of parents and communities and educators everywhere — is kids are putting things in their bodies, and they don’t know the long-term effects,” said Scott DeShong, Avon Grove High School principal.
His school recently purchased 18 of the devices, after the number of vaping-related rule violations doubled in the 2018-2019 school year. The penalty? A $50 fine and an out-of-school suspension.
“Given our concern for the health and welfare of our students, [the district] has installed vape sensors in our buildings,” said Phoenixville Area School District Superintendent Alan Fegley. Sixteen percent of Pennsylvania middle and high school students surveyed in the 2017 Pennsylvania Youth Survey had vaped in the last 30 days.
School districts in Burlington and Camden counties in New Jersey have also installed monitoring systems, which can be mounted on a wall.
Sensors in the devices measure the air content, including humidity, and send a real-time message to school officials when they detect changes that indicate vaping, according to DeShong. Some, such as the Fly Sense detectors purchased by Avon Grove, also contain decibel readers that flag sounds associated with bullying. According to the Fly Sense website, the product has detected vaping more than 64,000 times since September.
The sensors join a slate of educational efforts aimed at curbing teen use of the e-cigarettes.
Promoted as a safer alternative to tobacco, e-cigarettes nonetheless contain “potentially harmful substances” including nicotine and heavy metals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some brands of e-cigarette pods may contain only flavoring, while others contain nicotine or THC, a psychotropic derived from marijuana. Kids are more likely to vape than smoke cigarettes, but they are also more likely to start smoking cigarettes within six months than non-vapers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.