Teen vaping: Several Houston-area school districts turn to technology to battle e-cigarettes

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Montgomery ISD showed us the vape detectors it put into use last year inside its high schools.

HOUSTON — The halls of Montgomery High School will be filled with some 1,600 students starting Thursday.

All of them are reminded that vape detectors are in use inside every restroom.

“The thing with the vapes is they’re hard to physically detect,” Montgomery ISD interim Superintendent Amy Busby said.  “I mean, they can come in so many shapes and sizes and forms.”

However, the vapor they and e-cigarettes emit is detectable. That’s the reason the district decided to outfit both of its high schools with detectors.

“Last year was our first year to install the vape detectors,” said Busby.

The devices look similar to smoke detectors.

“Kids won’t know that it’s been activated, we will know,” MHS principal Noah Hollander said.

Instead of blaring like a smoke alarm, an instantaneous alert pops up in his email and the email of other school leaders.

“Then we’re either able to respond directly to the restroom to see if they’re still there,” said Hollander.  “Otherwise, we go into investigation mode.”

Discipline is automatic for anyone who gets caught, but deterrence rather than detection is the primary goal.

“Vaping has a lot of toxic chemicals,” said Esther Gabay with Harris County Public Health.

She helps run the agency’s Youth Vaping Prevention Program aimed at educating young people on the risks of vaping in the first place – including the potential impact on brain development.

“What we want to convey to the community is that vaping and e-cigarette usage can really have detrimental effects to health,” said Gabay.

We checked with a number of Houston area districts and most, including Houston ISD, do not use vape detectors.

Humble, Montgomery and Pearland ISDs are among those that have invested in them.

Another important reminder is that Texas law prohibits anyone under 21 to buy or own e-cigarettes or other vape devices.

HISD’s statement:

The district has not purchased nor installed vaping detection systems. Vaping continues to be a global concern. Please know we take these situations very seriously, as the safety of our students is always our absolute top priority.

Tobacco and e-cigarette use are prohibited at all HISD schools and facilities, buses, playgrounds, and at athletic and after-school events. Students in possession of or found to be using vaping or e-cigarette devices are disciplined according to the HISD Student Code of Conduct. A state law took effect on September 1, 2019, that raises the legal age for vaping or smoking in Texas to 21. We encourage parents to remind their children about the dangers and consequences of e-cigarettes, vaping pens, drugs, and alcohol, and the importance of reporting unsafe behavior and substances.