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An increasing number of schools are turning to vape detection technology to counter the growing prevalence of illicit vaping by pupils, as Ron Alalouff reports.
Whether or not headlines such as “vaping epidemic” and “vaping crisis” may be overblown, the incidence of vaping among children and teenagers is on the increase. Latest figures from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) suggest that more than 20% of children have tried vaping. While just under 12% of children and teenagers only vaped once or twice, 7.6% were regularly vaping.
The proportion of children and teenagers currently vaping is more than double those who say they smoke – 7.6% compared to 3.6%.
The increased incidence of children vaping has led to schools installing vape detection systems – particularly in toilets where pupils tend to gather to vape. The advantage of such systems compared to CCTV is that they can be installed in cubicles without any privacy concerns, as they don’t capture video or audio.
Vape detectors are quite different from smoke detectors and are designed to serve different purposes.
While smoke detectors use technologies such as ionisation and photoelectric sensors to detect the presence of smoke, vape detectors have a sensor that analyses the air in its environment and detects the presence of vape aerosol.
Some detectors can also detect smoke from cigarettes and cannabis, and can monitor general air quality.
The two principal features of vape detectors are:
- Sensors: Vape detection systems use different types of sensors to detect the presence of vaping aerosol or its associated components. Particulate sensors detect and measure the particulate matter in the air, which is present when vaping occurs. They can identify the size, concentration, and composition of particles associated with vaping. Chemical sensors, on the other hand, analyse the air quality and detect specific compounds or chemicals commonly found in e-cigarette aerosol. These sensors can be calibrated to identify the unique chemical signatures of vaping aerosol.
- Air sampling: Vape detection systems often include air sampling mechanisms to collect air samples from the environment. The sensors then analyse the collected air samples to determine the presence of vaping aerosol or its associated chemicals.
When vaping is detected, the systems trigger an audible alarm, visual indicator or a signal sent to a monitoring system or mobile device. The alert can be sent to the school administration or individual staff members, who can take appropriate action.
Vaping in toilet cubicles
Andrew Jenkins, Managing Director of Schoolwatch told IFSEC Insider that almost all school vaping takes place in toilets, with as many as a dozen pupils cramming into one cubicle.
“The number of detectors needed by a school can vary wildly depending on the style of toilet blocks they have. Many are investing in unisex cubicles with floor-to-ceiling doors. These offer great privacy but are also perfect for vaping, as they have a dedicated extractor fan.
“We are working with one school with 82 separate cubicles with floor-to-ceiling doors needing 82 detectors. A sister school has eight toilet blocks with conventional open-top cubicles needing just 16. They have a similar number of pupils. One is potentially affordable, whilst the other isn’t.”
Another player in the vape detection market is IPVideo Corporation, which utilises multi-sensors, software algorithms, machine learning and AI technology to alert users about vaping and other concerns in buildings.
Its solution, HALO, is said to detect the presence of smoke, and drills down to the type of smoke, vapour or gas. In addition, it can detect sound abnormalities such as shouting and even gunshots. The latest version – Halo 3C – includes added features such as emergency lighting and an optional people-counting sensor.
The detectors connect to HALO Cloud, which provides an online dashboard for monitoring and managing multiple devices and real-time data on a building’s air quality status. Like the Triton range, alerts can be sent to selected people via their own devices.
“We are seeing more products, including heat-not-burn technology, and hearing from the marketplace of an increase in the use of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and illicit drugs with the use of vaping,” says David Antar, President at IPVideo Corporation. “One of our school clients, for instance, had 20 emergency medical services calls for students in the bathrooms before our devices were installed, and have had none since.”
In addition to schools, the devices have been installed in public housing, hotels, public libraries, shops and restaurants.
Fire alarms activated
Giving evidence to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee in June, Laranya Caslin, Principal at St George’s Academy in Sleaford, said she estimates that around 25% of students at the school were vaping, and in some cases, were making excuses to leave lessons to go to the toilet and vape.
One consequence was vaping triggering smoke detectors and setting off the fire alarm, interrupting lessons on a regular basis.
“I became really concerned about interruptions to the exam season, so I had to change the smoke sensors to heat sensors really quickly, to prevent us being in and out while students were sitting GCSEs and A-levels. The ramifications are quite broad in an education setting.”