PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Some school districts are installing new devices in hopes of curbing the growing vaping epidemic.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, one in five high school students admits to using e-cigarettes.
Students like Emma Bowland, of Ellwood City, began feeling pain in her lungs after vaping for one year.
“It’s like popcorn, a lot of patchiness, and lungs were bleeding, and fluid in my lungs,” Bowland said.
Vaping is quickly becoming a problem in schools, some schools more than others.
“Three years ago is when we started tracking data, and it became acutely aware that this was going to be a problem that we were going to need to address,” said Matt Montgomery, superintendent of the Revere Local School District in Richfield, Ohio. “We thought that vaping detectors would be a good addition in an approach to deter them.”
The district, located outside of Akron, Ohio, installed vaping detectors in the high school, middle school and athletic field house as part of a pilot program.
“The detectors detect both vape and loud noise, or loud noise disturbances,” Montgomery said.
When chemicals in vaping are detected, a silent alarm notifies school administrators.
“It sends a text message and an email to a pre-determined list of individuals in a given building or district to let them know what is occurring and where it is occurring,” Montgomery added.
KDKA decided to put it to the test. After two seconds of vaping in a bathroom, the principal received a text message.
“So far, we have seen a decline from last year to this time this year,” Montgomery said, “so that’s promising. Certainly, the word is out, students are aware that we are monitoring these type of situations.”
Each vape detector costs about $1,000. They can detect vaping in a 10-20 foot area. In Revere High School they are placed in the bathrooms. They don’t record audio or video.
Revere Local School District has 16 vape detectors that were paid for with a grant from the state of Ohio.
“A big barrier for us is the cost,” said Dr. James Konrad, superintendent of the Washington School District in Washington County, Pennsylvania. “It’s not that we don’t want the product, I think it would be a burden to some degree with that large of a cost.”
Konrad says he’d like to have the vaping detectors in his district, but he currently cannot afford them.
“Sixteen cost $16,000, and so I need to really think about how would I be spending 16k and what educational opportunities might I be missing if we’re putting this investment in the vape detection systems,” he said.
Konrad has reached out to political leaders in Harrisburg in hopes of getting some financial assistance, possible like the grants in Ohio.
“I’m hopeful that as this epidemic increases that a lot of people in government will start recognizing the need for it within school districts,” he said.
In addition to Washington County schools, KDKA contacted 19 other Western Pennsylvania school districts about vaping detectors. Right now, only two are in the process of installing them, including Butler Area Schools. While two more districts are considering them.
Meanwhile, more and more kids are starting to vape.
“It’s very scary that these things are on the rise, and it’s very prevalent within school districts,” said Konrad.
“This is truly a national epidemic,” added Montomery. “I think that we are all grappling and finding ways to meet the needs of our students.”
School administrators like Montgomery are hopeful these detectors are a step in the right direction in combating America’s new-found vaping addiction.