Before the first vaping-related illness was even reported, schools in Colorado were working to address the teen vaping epidemic.
As of Sept. 17, 2019, the number of lung injury cases tied to vaping had reached 530 and seven people had died, according to the CDC. But Colorado schools have been testing a possible solution long before vaping illnesses made it into the spotlight.
Many local schools say they have tested a new device that is forcing young vapers to keep their vape-pens in their pockets. The contraption is called the HALO Smart Sensor.
It was created by the IPVideo Corporation, which has been involved with school safety and school security since before the Columbine High School tragedy.
David Antar, the company’s CEO, said IPVideo is one of several companies that has created a vape detection device, no bigger than a detector, that can recognize miniscule changes in the air. The ease of use, lack of lingering smell and little-to-no evidence left behind is the main issue school administrators run into as they try to catch students who vape at school.
“HALO is the only product that can detect nicotine vape, vape with THC, advanced smoke detection, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, propane, natural gas detection, chemical detection and much more,” Antar said.
In other words, it can catch a vaper red-handed and then text the vape cloud location to every school staff member with a smart phone.
Antar, and his competition, are now selling these devices to schools almost as fast as teens are taking up vaping.
You could say a nerve has been hit.
“Our device will actually go in and monitor air quality,” said Derek Peterson, the president of Digital Fly, which made the FlySense vape detector. “By monitoring air quality, it will define what is a vaping signature.”
Peterson said he’s shipping out more than 700 of these devices each month to school systems in Colorado and around the world. And at more than $1,000 a piece, schools are now choosing to put their money where their student’s lungs are.
So, you might be asking: Why spend the money on vaping detectors when staff and students can keep eyes and ears on student conduct for free?
The problem mirrors a similar situation from several decades ago: When students wanted to sneak a cigarette during school hours, they’d run to the bathroom. That’s where today’s students go to vape as well. And guards and cameras are not allowed in bathrooms.
The developers of the vape detectors considered privacy first.
“We don’t record audio or video,” Antar said. “We’re very, very cautious about that and that’s why this was developed to be used in these privacy areas.”
Elizabeth High School Principal Bret McClendon said he knew kids were vaping in the bathrooms, hallways and even classrooms. He also knew catching students was a huge challenge for his staff.
Now, the high school has become one of dozens across Colorado to deploy the detectors. McClendon pushed for the initial $10,000 expense even before the first severe lung illness case was reported.
“We believe these enhance safety,” he said. “We believe these enhance security and that it’s a worthwhile investment. Let’s be honest: If we can keep kids from doing this, I think the safety and security piece is well worth it.”
Elizabeth High School senior Taylor Brooks said she believes most of the student population is already addicted to nicotine.
She said she saw that blossom as far back as middle school. To now be in a school peppered with vape detectors is not what her classmates might have expected. However, she said it might be the best way to keep vaping out of the school.
“I don’t know whether it will be the end or if it will just encourage more sneakiness — if they’ll find a way around it like they always do,” she said. “But I do think it has stopped it, especially during the school day.”
Eastern Colorado’s Brush High School is another school that has armed itself in this battle. Principal Scott Hodgson said his first batch of vape detectors have been ordered and are on the way.
“After seeing a significant increase in vaping related discipline over the last school year, we were looking for a 21st century way to battle a 21st century problem.”
The vaping detectors also alert staff when one is tampered with or covered.
McClendon said he has yet to see evidence that his students are permanently pulling the flavor pods out of their Juuls, but he also knows the beginning of the end of teen vaping has to start somewhere.
Some of these same vape detectors are also used to control bullying by alerting staff to any drastic changes in sound like banging or yelling. The next generation is expected to include alerts for specific sounds like gunshots, breaking glass or explosions.
Elizabeth High School staff are so pleased with the first generation vape detectors that the principal is preparing to place a second order.
The list of local school districts interested in doing the same is growing. Thornton, Evergreen, Boulder and Elbert County schools are already customers.