How to Conquer Vaping in Schools and Get Students Back to Learning
Kids will be kids. It’s their job to find ways to fit in and push back against authority. In the previous decades, this natural tendency has resulted in challenging trends ranging from ducktail hairdos, sagging jeans and disruptive toys, such as the “clicker-clackers” of the 1970s, to serious, illegal habits such as street racing, drinking, smoking and sniffing solvents. It’s a never-ending challenge for parents and educators.
One of the latest worrisome youth trends is e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” an activity that is putting kids in danger and taking too much focus off learning. Teachers and administrators are taking drastic, time-consuming action to fight the trend with little to no positive impact. However new technology, according to first-time users, has all but stopped vaping in some schools.
It’s Real: The Problem with Teen Vaping
It’s not news to anyone that nicotine is an addictive drug, but what most don’t realize is how prevalent it is in e-cigarettes. Vaping is seen by many adults as a tool to help them stop smoking. These devices can contain a wide range of nicotine amounts, as well as other harmful chemicals. It’s one thing for an adult to decide to use a nicotine-based device to replace smoking or help them quit, and it is quite another when young adults or even middle school children look to vaping as a daily activity.
Teen use of e-cigarettes has doubled since 2017, and 25% of high school seniors reported using a vape in the last month, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It has become so prevalent that it has been called an “epidemic.” Mainstream media has taken notice and is reporting on this trend.
Time Magazine, for example, reported further NIDA findings:
In 2018, 30% of the nation’s 12th-graders reported vaping nicotine at least once in the past year, according to a January 2019 study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The study said the increase in vaping last year was “the largest ever recorded for any substance in the 44 years” that it has tracked adolescent drug use.
Part of the problem is that teens (and shockingly even preteen and elementary school users) don’t realize vaping can be bad for them. They see it as a harmless way to not smoke and are often unaware that vaping juices contain even more nicotine than cigarettes. Some vaping flavors are marketed with names that seem childlike and harmless (“cotton candy,” “bubble gum”). One study found that 60% of students did not know vapes contain nicotine. Further complicating matters is the fact that the vaporizers and flavors are not expensive, not regulated and easy for young people to obtain.
A Prime Communications Inc. (PCI) employee admitted that their own children knew of kids at their school that didn’t know vaping could be unhealthy. “There’s no smell, no bad taste like cigarettes, and they felt it was something that’s cool and not bad for you,” they said. “They told me everyone is doing it – even my kids’ friends who are high-level athletes. But it’s still putting chemicals in your lungs, and they didn’t see it until I started talking with them about it.”
Nicotine has been blamed for developmental issues in children and young adults due to its effects on the developing brain, including producing excessive levels of dopamine resulting in ADHD-like concentration issues. Furthermore, nicotine is widely accepted to be addictive and a possible precursor to smoking later in life. Finally, because vaping is unregulated, many products contain higher levels of nicotine than claimed or other substances with problems of their own.
The most common “other” substance found inside e-cigarettes is THC, the chemical in marijuana that provides a “high.” Black market e-cigs can contain chemical fillers and concealed drugs that could cause health issues or serious addictions. There have been recent cases of teens experiencing seizures – and a few deaths – that look suspiciously like results of vaping. Other concerns relate to the potential for major illnesses such as lung disease and holes in the esophagus. Legislation and executive orders are in process to ban e-cigs for youth, but some worry that it will only push users to the black market.
“It’s a shame, because we were making such good progress reducing the number of teens addicted to nicotine before this,” said Amy Feldhacker with Tech Reps, a local rep for IPVideo Corporation, the manufacturer of this new device that detects and notifies of vaping. Amy is also a parent and worries about how vaping might affect her own children.
“Some statistics say one in five high schoolers vape,” Feldhacker said, “but, when I talk with my kids and other students, they say that is ridiculously low. It took 40 years to discover the dangers of smoking, and I worry that it will take too long to get a handle on vaping and a lot of kids will be harmed in the meantime.” Feldhacker revealed that her company has had more than 85 inquiries from schools about vaping detectors in just the last couple of months.
These same statistics and horror stories of teen vaping are the ones filling today’s headlines, and, because of their frequency, are no longer met with much surprise. However, what news cameras are not capturing are the people and institutions the vaping epidemic is affecting more than its users: schools and their staff.
Teachers report that vaping is distracting students and affecting their ability to perform in class. Vapers are leaving the classroom daily at appointed times to meet friends in bathrooms to vape together. “The teachers I have spoken with say students who vape aren’t concentrating on class material because all they can think about is the next time they get to vape,” Feldhacker explained.
Some students try to conceal e-cigs and sneak puffs in class. Teachers say an inordinate amount of their time is consumed by dealing with this behavior, from managing the number of students who go to the restroom at a time to monitoring bathrooms more often, to hashing out new school policies and making sure everyone is aware: students, teachers, administrators and parents. Not to mention meting out discipline when students are caught using the devices.
NBC News reported on one Alabama high school that has removed bathroom stall doors to deter vaping. The news channel said 9% of other schools surveyed also have removed bathroom doors. Privacy issues are clearly in question, but educators don’t know what else to do.
The fact remains that vaping is becoming expensive both in terms of teachers’ time and the costs of resources needed to address the problem. Brian Freeman, PCI’s VP of National Accounts, pointed out that there are also lost opportunity costs in terms of how much education young people are receiving. “And it’s not fair to teachers,” he said. “They didn’t go to college to become a safety officer or social worker, and that’s what they are being called on to do with a behavior epidemic like vaping.”
Vaping Detection is Evolving as an Effective Vaping Solution for Schools
At the time of this printing, IPVideo Corporation is one of only a handful of companies developing sensor products to help schools address the problems of vaping. “IPVideo’s product, the HALO Smart Sensor, began as an IoT device to detect carbon monoxide, dioxide, methane, propane, temperature, humidity and light levels. It’s a smart tool, like Alexa or Google Home that allows you to monitor spaces,” Feldhacker explained. “The device has been used in the past for detection where it’s not possible to use video.”
The HALO product can also detect sound at a decibel level to indicate when there might be fighting, bullying or vandalism. All of these extra capabilities can help make the product cost effective for schools – but not all detectors being marketed as vaping solutions can provide the additional detection. Feldhacker said new features will roll out soon. “The sensor product will get smarter,” she said, “with additional features such as voice analytics, word recognition and gunshot detection.”
The IP-based sensing device, which looks like a smoke detector and is mounted on the ceiling, is easily programmed with signatures of the substances and sounds schools are looking for, then when something is detected the device sends notifications to select personnel via text or email. The device has anti-tampering features to deter students from attempting to disarm it, and it can be easily integrated into some full-featured security systems, such as Genetec championed by Prime Communications, Inc.
The HALO sensor can be used in conjunction with video management system (VMS) products to determine who has been using vape products where the sensor is tripped and provide probable cause for searches. Feldhacker said it is important for schools to put some thought into how the device will be handled within the parameters of existing security policies and protocols. A technology integrator such as PCI can help ensure the product is fully leveraged for a variety of security needs, as well as ensuring that signature thresholds are set at appropriate levels to avoid false alarms.
Perhaps most important is the device’s role as a deterrent. The idea is that once the word is spread that video-equipped substance detection systems are in place, with anti-tampering technology, students may give up trying to vape during school hours.
The technology is new to schools, but early results are promising. One school in Missouri installed the HALO device recently and has already seen a drastic reduction in on-premises teen vaping. The principal shared his feedback with Feldhacker:
I can say this very simply, the HALO sensors have completely eliminated vaping in the restrooms and locker room areas at our school. They have been better than advertised! When you add in the tampering alarm and the bully component, it has been a great asset to our staff and school. The ease in installation and programing, along with the success we have experienced make them worth every penny!
Worrisome peer-based cultural habits will always be a part of school environments, but sensing devices such as the HALO vape detector can help schools fight the negative effects of vaping, from teen health concerns to loss of resources and learning erosion.
For more information about the HALO vape detection device, contact the experts at PCI: 402.289.4126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.