Schools Need to Be on Alert
Vaping has reached out and touched more than 3 million students
- By Tom Reilly
- December 01, 2019
For years manufacturers have been finding ways to make
products more appealing to kids, either by design or
through the senses, such as smell or taste. We now have
grape-flavored pediatric cold medicine and vitamins that
look like gummy bears. So it makes perfect sense that we
also now have odors that smell like cool mint or mango drifting from
the student bathrooms.
The 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 11.7 percent
of high school students and 3.3 percent of middle school students
used e-cigarettes. And in many instances, the restrooms in America’s
high schools and middle schools, where by law, video cameras are not
allowed, have become a popular place to enjoy the puff of the day as
this epidemic continues to grow.
The National Education Association estimates that up to three million
students are using vaping products, many using the JUUL brand,
which not only smells and tastes good, but also looks like a really cool
computer flash drive that can be charged in a USB port. Each JUUL
cartridge contains roughly the same amount of highly-addictive nicotine
as 20 cigarettes.
“It is happening in the hallways, it is happening in the bathrooms,
we even had a kid a couple of years ago vaping in the classroom,” said
Cam Traut, a school nurse at Libertyville High School in the Chicago
suburbs and a National Association of School Nurses board member.
“I get the sense that students think it is safe. The marketing or advertising
was, ‘oh, this is a much healthier version of traditional, tobacco
cigarettes,’ so the kids have focused on that ‘healthier’ component.
And it’s taken off like wildfire.”
“As a school, we’re trying to provide some education to the kids so
they understand the health risks they’re taking, and we’re also educating
our staff on what to look for… but it’s an uphill battle,” Traut said.
Those flavors are attractive to kids, warns the American Academy
of Pediatrics. Meanwhile, 15- to-17-year-olds are more than 16 times
more likely to be JUUL users than 25- to 34-year-olds, according to
the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit public health organization that was
established 20 years ago as part of a settlement between tobacco companies
and states. The chart below tells more of the story.
The device’s maker says it is intended only for adults trying to quit
smoking, that its website aims to block underage customers, and the
company supports legislation to raise the minimum age for vaping
products to 21 nationwide. But as JUUL and the FDA play the “hesaid,
she-said” game, young people are getting sick and, in some
Ways to track vaping in school restrooms has increased dramatically
over the years as more companies are creating sophisticated vaping
detectors, some that even have the capabilities to detect loud
noises, which can be an indication of bullying, breaking glass and
other possible violent or anti-social behavior.
New York’s Plainedge High School was among the first to install
new bathroom vape sensors that can detect e-cigarette. Few students
have been caught so far, but officials say that is not a sign of failure.
“The truth of the matter is the kids see it, they know what it is —
and it in itself is a deterrent,” said Edward Salina, superintendent of
Plainedge Public Schools.
“We’ve seen significant increases across the student body,” said
Robert Keuther, principal at Marshfield High School on the south
shore of Massachusetts. “This is not something specific to one group
of kids. It is across all of my grades, nine to 12. It is all students.”
Taking the Short Route Between Detection and Prevention
But as a school administrator, when it comes to having vaping detectors
in bathrooms you have to take the next logical step, which is to
have the technology available to not only detect, but do what needs to
be done to also prevent (i.e. catch the perpetrators). And to that end,
many security companies are now working with schools and vapedetection
manufacturers that are making these detection devices
available to schools throughout the country.
These vaping sensors can be installed in bathrooms where it will
detect vapor from electronic cigarettes in real time, including the
detection of THC oil, a chemical found in both e-cigarettes and
marijuana. Still, detection is only as useful as the ability to monitor
But how do you monitor something in an area where cameras are
not permitted? Unfortunately, this is where some schools have
blurred the line between security and invasion of privacy. Recently an
Alabama principal made headlines after he ordered the removal of
the doors in several of his school’s bathroom stalls. In that Alabama
case, the doors were put back in one week later after parents issued
concerns about their children’s privacy. In another effort, a school
district in Texas required students to roll up their sleeves when entering
school in an attempt to prevent them from hiding e-cigarettes.
Neither action was particularly popular with parents, but it shows the
extremes schools are going through to stem the rising tide. There are
Advancements in technology have given security companies the
ability to integrate these restroom vape detectors so that alerts for any
infractions can be sent in real time to the appropriate parties’ phone
and emails. It can also be integrated into the school’s security/video
systems. In addition, the technology exists to integrate with cameras
outside the restrooms, so as to monitor who enters and leaves correspondent
to when the infractions occur. This means if Larry and Billy
walk out of the bathroom minutes after the vaping detector signals a
time-stamped message to the principal’s email, you can be pretty sure
that they are doing something that they are not supposed to be doing.
Installers can also adjust and maximize the settings for the room’s
environment, thus removing false alarms that other sensors might get
from body and disinfectant sprays. Integration can also be set up to
pinpoint where the infraction occurs, so alerts are sent to a teacher on
the 2nd floor if there is an infraction in the 2nd floor bathroom, etc.
The device can also be wired into a PoE-enabled network. This is
important because it makes it easier to connect to an existing network,
with less work required.
There is no denying that schools are embracing this technology
as the ill effects of vaping become more and more prominent in the
news. And that is without factoring in that along with the obvious
health risks, vaping has also caused additional problems as e-cigarettes
are being flushed down toilets, resulting in school having to
dole out thousands of dollars in custodial and plumbing fees. But
what price tag do we place on the health and safety of our most precious
cargo. Once a student walks through the front door, his wellbeing
is in the hands of a dedicated staff, dedicated to not only
educate, but to protect.
More schools are investing heavily in placing vape detectors in
their restroom, with reports of one Ohio school district doling out
more than $60,000 to put vape detectors in their bathrooms. Plus,
there are additional costs for programming, integration, etc. So it
makes sense that schools should seek out trained installers to maximize
their return with real-time communications.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.