Vaping Detectors On The Way To Traverse City Schools
By Craig Manning | Dec. 18, 2018
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, use of E-cigarettes among teenagers surged 75 percent this year. Local school districts have noticed the uptick and are taking steps to prevent vaping on campus.
Jame McCall, associate superintendent for Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS), says the district is preparing to launch a pilot program that will put vape detectors in bathrooms and locker rooms at both Central High School and West Senior High. The detectors are connected to school Wi-Fi and are designed to monitor vapor in the air. When a detector senses excess vapor levels, it notifies school administrators, who can then check the area to see if kids are vaping.
McCall thinks the rise of E-cigarettes today is a parallel to what happened with traditional cigarettes in the 1950s and 1960s. Back then, kids would smoke cigarettes in school bathrooms between classes. Today’s teenagers are doing the same thing, but vaping instead of smoking.
“It is a definite trend with some of our kids, and it is one of the things we are looking at as we try to provide a safer community for learning,” McCall says.
As with traditional cigarettes, federal law bans the sale of E-cigarettes to anyone under 18. In September, though, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that vaping among teenagers had reached “an epidemic proportion.” The agency gave E-cigarette manufacturers and retailers an ultimatum: Figure out a way to keep these products out of the hands of minors, or face stiffer regulations, costly fines, or even civil or criminal charges. In November, the FDA started doling out the first of those consequences, banning the sale of flavored E-cigarettes in gas stations and convenience stores and instituting more in-depth age verification requirements for companies selling E-cigarettes online.
The FDA is targeting flavored vapes for a reason. E-cigarettes contain nicotine and are addictive, but generally have fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes. Flavored E-cigarettes, though – which seem to be especially popular among younger users – often contain chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other diseases. One example is the chemical diacetyl, a buttery flavor previously used in microwave popcorn. When inhaled, diacetyl can lead to a disease commonly referred to as “popcorn lung,” which scars the air sacs in the lungs and causes a narrowing of the airway. Popcorn lung cannot be cured and has symptoms that include dry coughing, headaches, shortness of breath, fever, and more. The disease was discovered when workers at factories for microwave popcorn companies started to develop complications from inhaling diacetyl all day. Now some E-cigarette users are pumping the substance into their lungs on a regular basis as part of vape flavors like maple and vanilla.
McCall says that one of TCAPS’ priorities going forward is to educate both students and parents about these risks. Consequences for students caught vaping on school property include in-school suspensions and what McCall calls “restorative practices” – video modules meant to teach kids about the harmful effects of vaping. Student-athletes face stiffer consequences: suspensions from participating in one-third of their current or next athletic seasons.
“Our goal is not to catch kids, but to deter them,” McCall says. “We want to keep them from bringing this kind of stuff to school, or to keep them from using it at all.”
For the vape detector pilot program, TCAPS has been loaned the necessary equipment from the manufacturer free of charge. The equipment is onsite and ready to be installed, but TCAPS is sending information about the detectors to students, parents, and staff prior to implementation. If the detectors prove to be an effective deterrent, the school district will purchase them for all TCAPS secondary schools.
TCAPS isn’t the only Michigan school district adopting this type of equipment. Windemuller Electric, a Traverse City-based company, was recently approached by Leland Public Schools to install vaping sensors in school bathrooms. Since then, Windemuller Account Manager Tim Stoudt says the company has installed detectors at Glen Lake Public Schools and been approached about providing similar services for Suttons Bay Public Schools and for Whitehall District Schools downstate. Stoudt expects the technology will only continue to grow and spread as more school districts become aware of it.
“I was talking with the technology guy at Suttons Bay Public Schools and then the athletic director at Whitehall Schools, and they both had not heard of vape detectors,” Stoudt says. “As soon as I mentioned [the technology], they were super interested in it and wanted pricing. It seems like this could be a huge market.”