Oct 23 2019

The IoT Innovation That’s Helping Schools Curb Student Vaping

Teen e-cigarette use is at an all-time high, but technology could help K–12 leaders better detect and address the harmful habit.

When students smoke cigarettes on school grounds, it’s hard to hide what they’re doing. Plumes of smoke and the strong odor of tobacco or marijuana — scents that linger in the air and seep into clothing and hair — are dead giveaways. 

But most teens who consume tobacco products prefer electronic cigarettes to traditional ones. The vapor e-cigarettes emit, as well as any odor, lasts mere seconds. The devices bear little resemblance to regular cigarettes.

That means it takes more than a watchful eye and a decent sense of smell to detect students vaping. New Internet of Things technology offers a solution.

FlySense from Soter Technologies, a Wi-Fi enabled sensor, detects anomalies in air quality that could be caused by vaping as well as changes in noise levels possibly linked to violence. 

When installed in areas where cameras and microphones can’t go, such as inside school restrooms or locker rooms, FlySense works like smoke detectors. 

They won’t record images or sounds, but the devices will send school leaders real-time alerts and the locations of potentially harmful activity

Also, thanks to a partnership between Soter and the wireless company Ruckus Networks announced this summer, FlySense is integrated into the Ruckus IoT Suite. Now schools’ other IoT devices, such as security cameras, work with the vaping detection sensors.

These solutions emerged amid national conversation and concern about the high rates of vaping among teens and young adults. And we know from recent headlines how harmful vaping can be. 

As of Oct. 8, 1,299 lung injury cases and 26 deaths in the U.S. have been linked to e-cigarette use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. The deaths include patients ages 17 to 75. (Officials have linked most of the lung injuries to off-market marijuana products.)

The CDC data also paints a grim picture of where teens and young adults fall within the outbreak: About 15 percent of patients are younger than 18; the youngest are 13.

The number of youth e-cigarette users increased by 1.5 million from 2017 to 2018, the CDC reports. The agency estimates 4.9 million middle and high school students used tobacco products in 2018. 

Among high school students, e-cigarettes accounted for most of that: 20.8 percent. By comparison, cigarettes accounted for 8.1 percent of high school students’ tobacco use last year. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: Learn how data and surveillance systems fortify security for K–12 communities.

Schools Face High Costs of Nicotine Addiction

We now understand some of the reasons why vaping caught on with youth. E-cigarettes initially were viewed as a safer alternative to cigarettes because they use water vapor. But even when labeled as “nicotine-free,” the liquids that are heated in e-cigarettes to create vapor actually contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm developing brains

E-liquids also come in kid-tempting flavors such as various fruit, dessert, mint and candy — something that worried health experts as far back as 2013. 

Some of the liquids contain chemicals that are poisonous when consumed in high doses

Of high school students who are e-cigarette users, 68 percent say they use flavored e-cigarettes, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. 

The Food and Drug Administration and some states are moving to ban some e-cigarette flavors. Major retailers such as Walmart reportedly plan to stop selling e-cigarettes. 

Three school districts sued Juul this month, saying the company targeted young people with its marketing and stuck schools with “the costs of stopping students from vaping, disciplining them when they break school rules and providing support services when they become addicted,” The New York Times reports. 

The popularity of e-cigarettes among youth and the related health hazards underscore why vaping detection is particularly useful for school districts. 

Early generations of e-cigarettes looked like the real thing, but the modern devices don’t. 

For example, Juul, the most commonly sold e-cigarette in the U.S., looks like a long flash drive.

Sleek designs may make it more difficult for teachers to recognize a device as an e-cigarette when they see it. And many of the designs are much more deceptive than a long flash drive. 

New vape devices on the market use commercial liquid pods but have misleading designs — hoodies, wristwatches, a computer mouse, lipstick or car keys. The latter two are most worrying.

Think about that and what it means for schools. Every school day, students may possess devices that are easy to conceal, difficult to detect by sight or smell alone, and come in seemingly harmless flavors that contain addictive and potentially toxic chemicals

Having tools to detect vaping not only gives school leaders more of an edge in confiscating e-cigarettes. It might also help save students’ lives.

This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.



[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology
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