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Schools turn to technology to monitor e-cig usage

September 24, 2018

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — Fort Smith schools expanded anti-tobacco policy to include vaping and e-cigarettes “a number of years ago.”

Schools around the country are beginning to install sensors in bathrooms, locker rooms and stairwells to detect and alert administrators when vaping occurs.

The sensor, Fly Sense 2.5, is installed using a wired school network or through Wi-Fi in various locations where vaping typically takes place. It then looks for chemical compounds found in e-cigarette vapor.

“Once the device is installed, it looks for a vaping signature,” said Derek Peterson, Soter Technologies CEO. “We’ve classified different elements in the air, and through machine learning, we can actually distinguish when we see vape, spray from a can of Lysol, or kids spraying Axe.”

When the vaping signature is detected, the sensor can automatically send a notification to a school administrator. Peterson said it is possible for the organization to set up various types of alerts. Previously, schools could choose to receive alerts via text message or email, but the updated sensor also includes a mobile application that can send in-app push notifications.

It is also possible for the school to schedule when and to whom it wants alerts to be sent, Peterson said. For example, security guards who work Monday through Friday could receive alerts only during their shift, while the principal could request to receive notifications at all times.

The Times Record reports that vaping and the use of various types of e-cigarettes have become a concern for parents and schools in recent years. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 2 million middle and high school students in 2016 had used an e-cigarette in the past month. The CDC also reports the use of these devices could increase the chance of students and young adults who were previously non-smokers to use regular cigarettes or other addictive substances.

Fort Smith School District has not implemented the technology, but vaping is a topic of concern due to the rise of public use.

“We have some schools that report higher incidents of vaping than others,” said Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communications. “A number of years ago, we did add to the tobacco policy the prohibition against e-cigarettes and vaping in schools.”

Students caught vaping are subject to discipline referrals. Consequences can vary based on the number of previous referrals a student has for that action, Featherston Marshall said.

According to data from the Arkansas Department of Education, Fort Smith middle and high schools have reported a total of 389 tobacco-related disciplinary infractions since August 2013. There were 105 reports for the 2017-18 school year. The information, however, does not indicate the type of usage, meaning not all infractions are necessarily vaping-related.

The Fly 2.5 sensor is not only used for detecting vaping but learns to distinguish changes in noise levels, taking a timestamp of what a location is supposed to sound like at any time and alert administrators of any possible anomalies that could indicate issues as bullying or fighting, Peterson said.

While the sensors are placed in bathrooms and locker rooms, privacy is a top concern for Soter Technologies, which specializes in using technology to report certain behaviors and protect the identity of individuals.

“There are no cameras and no microphones,” Peterson said. “None of that exists in our devices, so there is nothing being recorded.”

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Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/

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