Metro Phoenix schools testing detectors as more students are vaping on campus

Kids as young as middle school are vaping, so Valley districts are testing new devices to crack down on e-cigarette use.
Published: Nov. 7, 2023 at 5:48 PM MST
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MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — A recent statewide survey shows more than 13% of eighth graders and 27% of high school seniors are vaping. And now Valley schools are trying to crack down. Some Valley districts are testing out new vape detectors designed to catch students using e-cigarettes on campus.

Allen Moore is the director of school safety and security for Mesa Public Schools. The district, which is the largest in the state, is now testing out a “vape detector” to crack down on students vaping in their schools. “Mostly what’s we are seeing is nicotine or THC marijuana vape pens,” Moore said.

The district is piloting a detector at Red Mountain High School and saw big results very quickly. “They look similar to smoke detectors,” Moore said. “They get about 15 alerts a day from that one bathroom and from those 15 alerts, they have about five disciplined actions.”

He says the detectors are in the bathroom because that’s the most common place kids are vaping, mainly because there are no cameras or adult supervision. “They go where the cameras aren’t and, of course, we don’t put cameras in bathrooms,” Moore said.

Here’s how it works. The detector will pick up the chemicals from a vape and send an alert to the school’s camera system. It will then pull up the cameras in that vicinity for school security to see. “We know right away who we are looking for and who is coming out of the bathroom and then we could dispatch security and that’s how they catch them,” Moore said.

He says these vape devices are getting more and more concealable. Some vapes look like a pen or a flash drive. He said some students have even emptied a highlighter and put a vape pen inside. “We’ve got feedback from a lot of students that say they don’t like going into bathrooms because people are in there vaping and that’s not fair,” Moore said.

According to the FDA, about 2.8 million kids currently use some kind of tobacco product. This is lower in high school students compared to last year, but up among middle school students. Deer Valley Unified School District officials say they are noticing that rise in their middle schoolers. They say vape detectors could be in their future, but right now, they have drug diversion dogs who do searches on cars and lockers. In Peoria Unified School District, they have around 50 vape sensors in their high schools and plan to expand to junior highs in the future. “It looks like it’s going to be a successful program,” Moore said.

He says the goal is to create a safer and healthier environment inside of schools. “Parents are asking us to do something, to crack down,” he said.

Moore said he is meeting with the school board next week to talk about making this pilot program permanent. He says he hopes to eventually have vape detectors in all of their Mesa schools.

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