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Vape Detectors: Solution or Lost Cause?

Since the first e-cigarette was created, vaping has become increasingly rampant in middle and high schools across the country. There have been several newspaper articles describing it as an “epidemic.” Vaping has become so popular among students because the devices are small and easily concealed. Students use them in bathrooms, and even in class. Carefully marketed towards young people, they are often sold with special flavors of nicotine juice called “e-juice” like mango or watermelon. Disguised by sweet flavors, they usually have increased nicotine concentration compared to traditional cigarettes, making them highly addictive.

While this problem fails to be adequately recognized by the federal government, certain counties have taken steps to try to stop the ever-increasing numbers of teenagers vaping. San Francisco has banned one of the most popular brands, Juul, from being sold in smoke shops. Despite this, vaping in high school is still prevalent. In response, Berkeley High School (BHS) is taking its own steps to reduce usage among students. Recently, BHS has planned to start placing highly sensitive smoke detectors in its bathrooms. When triggered, the so-called “vape detectors” don’t set off an alarm in the bathroom, but in the office. Administrators can then check the cameras outside of the bathroom where the alarm went off to see who was in it at the time. Then, administrators can take the steps they feel are necessary with the student caught.

This often means confiscating their device or in cases where it’s their second or third offense: suspension. This brings up the question: will these detectors actually help solve the vaping epidemic, or will they just create more problems? These detectors will not suffice if BHS administration intends to put an end to vaping at school.

Kiernan Rok, the dean of students at BHS, has prioritized putting a stop to the vastly growing number of students who are addicted to nicotine. “The vaping and smoking issue is out of control at Berkeley High, so we have done research into a lot of different things. One of the things that some people have proposed that I have done some research into is vape detectors,” he said.

While these detectors would put vaping in school bathrooms to a halt, there are various drawbacks. Once someone is addicted to nicotine, confiscating their device won’t do anything to stop them from getting it, whether that means buying a new device, using a friend’s, or buying cigarettes.

Although these detectors wouldn’t put a dent in teen vaping, they serve another purpose. Rok said: “What can happen when students are vaping in the bathrooms is that the smoke alarm can go off, which means the whole school must evacuate, and that creates a huge disruption to our school. To me, the most important part about that is that we have students on our campus with disabilities … ” Rok continued to say that there are several students at BHS who need assistance coming down the many flights of stairs, and each time the fire alarm goes off, these students are put at risk. When Rok explains this situation to students they are extremely understanding and seem to realize that their actions are not as harmless as they may seem. Rok said that “people go and vape in the bathroom thinking that they are not hurting anybody, but every time we have to evacuate people are put at risk.”