NY school installs sensors to cut down on students vaping

PHOTO: Young woman smoking an e-cigarette.Getty Images
Young woman smoking an e-cigarette.

As teachers across the country combat the growing numbers of students vaping in schools, administrators are now using technology in high school bathrooms to cut down on e-cigarettes.

Edward Salina, the superintendent for Plainedge Public Schools on Long Island, New York, told ABC News' Brad Mielke during an interview for the "Start Here" podcast that Plainedge High School is involved in a pilot program for Fly Sense, a sensor system that alerts school officials when students are vaping.

"There's a sensor inside there that is able to detect vape and what it does is it sets off an alarm, which is basically sent to an administrator who reports to the bathroom in order to inspect what's going on," he said.

Fly Sense, which is also an anti-smoking and anti-bullying sensor system, can be placed where cameras aren't allowed, such as in bathrooms or locker rooms. Salina said the high school has cameras located outside bathrooms to catch people five minutes before they enter and five minutes after they exit the bathroom.

"We are a pretty technologically advanced school district so we were looking for technology in order for us to integrate into areas where we couldn't provide cameras and such," he said on "Start Here."

A 2016 report from the U.S. Surgeon General said e-cigarette use increased 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015.

E-cigarettes vaporize a liquid that may contain nicotine and other flavorings, and when the liquid is heated into an aerosol, users inhale it into their lungs, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Vaping is hard to detect because it doesn't have an odor and devices can be disguised to look like everyday items. Salina said products under the JUUL Labs brand, which resemble USB sticks, allow kids in schools to take a quick puff and hide the e-cigarette in a jacket or under their arm.

JUUL last week announced it would support efforts to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 and would spend $30 million to combat underage use of e-cigarettes. The company said in a statement to ABC News: "Consistent with the scientific evidence, use of e-cigarettes, including JUUL, has not been shown to be causally related to cigarette use. Recent studies have shown that tobacco smoking has actually decreased more rapidly since the advent of e-cigarettes."

Salina maintained the concern is that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking cigarettes. "It's not a good, healthy lifestyle and our job is to basically help our students make good decisions in their lives," he said.

"It's very, very hard to detect at this point in time and it is a challenge for us as a school district in order to manage these things that are going on," he said. "We're treating it just like cigarettes though, no different here in Plainedge Public Schools."

There is some skepticism that the sensor system will make a difference in stopping students from vaping, according to Salina, but he sees it as more of a "deterrent."

"I think that in that sense it is working and/or deterring our kids, knowing that they're there, not to make these mistakes," he said on "Start Here. "And that we're watching and we want you to be healthy and it's important to us."

ABC News reached out for comment to popular e-cigarette brand V2 on the increasing number of teens who vape. Jan Verleur, the CEO of V2's holding company, VMR Products, said: "VMR is in the business of harm reduction. Our products provide alternatives to deadly combustible smoke. We do everything in our power to keep our products out of the hands of minors. More harmful products, like alcohol and tobacco cigarettes, find their way into the minors' hands every day. It is unfortunate that the vapor industry is receiving such unfair attention.”

"Start Here" is a daily ABC News podcast hosted by Brad Mielke featuring original reporting on stories that are driving the national conversation. Listen for free at Apple Podcasts -- also available on TuneIn, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, iHeartRadio and the ABC News app.

Follow @StartHereABC on social for exclusive content, show updates and more: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

Comments