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Fed Up With E-Cigarette and Cannabis Use, High School Administrators Look to Vapor Detectors

Whether it’s a sleek cigarette substitute or cannabis cartridges, high schoolers are finding new ways to inhale on campus.

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Photo via TBEC Review

Teenage rebels looking to dull the edge, show off to their peers, or get high at school could run into increased scrutiny on campus. American school administrators, teachers, and parents are seeking out new detection tools, increased awareness, and more severe punishments for what they say is a huge problem with nicotine and cannabis vaporizers.

According to a pair of reports from the Chicago Tribune this week, high school administrators in Illinois have proposed installing vapor detectors in bathrooms, increasing penalties, and creating new education tools to combat student vaping — bemoaning difficulties in recognizing the discreet smoking tools as well as distinguishing between nicotine and cannabis use.

In Naperville, Illinois, school administrators specifically named nicotine vaporizer brand Juul, which is made up of a USB stick-sized battery and replaceable nicotine pods. That modular, ready-to-vape design is seen across America’s cannabis products, with a number of THC vaporizer cartridges indistinguishable from their e-cig counterparts.

Vaporizers containing nicotine, cannabis or other liquids are already banned at high schools across the country, but according to administrators, quickly dissipating vapor and unidentifiable smells has made the trend hard to corrall.

“It’s something that the kids are a little bit more bold with compared to cigarettes,” Naperville Central High School dean of students Mike Stock told the Tribune about student vaporizer use. “Sometimes they’re doing it out in the open, waiting for buses.”

To discourage vaporizer use as much as possible, school administrators in New Trier, Illinois have recommended installing vapor detectors in school bathrooms, supplementing smoke detectors to sniff out any type of airborne infraction.

A number of high schools in New York began testing vapor detectors last semester, using sensors from the brand Digital Fly, which contends that it can detect any change in environment, including vape use.

"If someone is inside the bathroom and they vape, it will contaminate the air, our sensor will pick it up and it will alert somebody in real time, 'Hey, there's a problem here, your air is contaminated, somebody could be vaping, somebody could be smoking, send somebody to check it out,'" Digital Fly software developer Billy Schweigert told a local NY Fox affiliate in August of last year.

Still, while the extent of the vapor detection device use is unknown, a report from the New York Times last week claims that vaporizer use has continued in New York City schools, with Juul once again named as a common sighting in the halls of Manhattan’s private institutions.

Like cannabis extracts, vaping liquids are a relatively new technological advancement, and scientists are still trying to determine their long-term health effects, but an NYU study cited by Times reporter Ginia Bellafante found that lab mice exposed to nicotine vapor for 12 weeks showed changes in their DNA, and a possibly increased risk for cancer and heart disease.

So while parents and administrators are understandably concerned about undetectable teenage cannabis use, the primary worry remains nicotine-based cigarette substitutes, especially considering America’s incredibly successful cultural campaign to end traditional cigarette use.

“We’ve made huge progress in reducing youth smoking in our country and we’re very concerned that e-cigarettes and products like Juul will undermine that progress and re-normalize tobacco use among kids,” Vince Willmore, vice president for communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the Chicago Tribune.