Sep 15, 2022 - News

Des Moines metro schools install vape detection equipment

Illustration of a vintage classroom with a teacher giving an anti-vaping presentation

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some Des Moines metro school districts are spending thousands of dollars on equipment in an effort to stop kids from vaping in school buildings.

Driving the news: Waukee plans to purchase eight vape detectors for $1,400 each from Midwest Alarm Services as part of a trial run this year.

  • West Des Moines installed vape detectors at Valley High School in 2021 and spent $1,500 on each one.

How it works: They look similar to smoke detectors and don't record any audio or video — making the unobtrusive device available to use in more private areas, like school bathrooms.

  • They pick up chemical changes in the air and silently alert officials when vaping is happening.

State of play: The popularity of e-cigarettes, especially among young Iowans, has reversed over a decade of declining tobacco use, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

  • In 1999, 38% of Iowa 11th graders had used some sort of tobacco product. That number steadily declined to 17% until 2014 — around the time e-cigarettes gained popularity among younger Iowans.
  • By 2018, it rose to 24%.

What's happening: Now, an estimated 20% of Iowa high school students have used an e-cigarette, according to a 2022 report from IDPH.

What we're watching: Will the vape detectors work?

  • As generations of teens have shown before — if there's a will, there's a way.
  • But vape detection equipment is one method that can be used, especially as schools face staff shortages.

What they're saying: Valley High School administrators noticed a significant reduction in repeat vaping incidents once the detectors were installed, according to Laine Mendenhall-Buck, spokesperson for WDMCS.

  • They installed them after noticing an increase in vaping in bathrooms starting in 2016, including "health-related incidents" from THC oil vapes.

Yes, but: Most metro schools don't have the detection equipment and don't plan on getting any.

  • "Our staff use their eyes, ears, and noses to prevent or stop vape use on school campuses," said Amanda Lewis, spokesperson for Des Moines schools. "It may seem 'old school,' but it is effective."

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