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can smoke detectors detect vapor

With teen vaping at all time high, schools are turning to ‘vape detectors’ to snuff out secret smokers

With alarms belles ringing around the country over a sudden surge in vaping related illnesses and deaths, an increasing number of high schools are turning to vape detectors to snuff out bathroom smokers.

As originally reported by CNN, these vape detectors, which often resemble carbon monoxide detectors, can be placed in areas where students are likely to sneak off to vape, such as bathrooms and closets. These are different from traditional cigarette smoke detectors, which often fail to detect vape smoke.

How does it work?

In a promotional video, one of the leading vape detector companies, Soter Technologies, claims its devices are capable of detecting, “vaping, smoke, and noise disturbances that may suggest violence.”

When the vape detector is triggered, an alert is immediately sent via text message or email to school officials, with the geolocation of the room where the detector was set off. The app will also send longer-term data to school officials on where students have been vaping the most so that they can deal with vaping “hotspots.”

While vape detectors have been around for several years, they were often seen as unnecessary additions. That mindset is changing due to the sheer amount of student vaping today.

According to the Federal Drug Administration, over 20% of teenagers reported using a vape or an e-cigarette in 2018 — a 78% increase from 2017. Health concerns, especially regarding younger children, prompted the Trump administration to recently announce its plan to introduce a ban on all flavored vaping products.

Schools are signing up

Nearly 100 school districts in New Jersey have already submitted requests to introduce vape detectors into their buildings, according to WLNY. A school district in Ohio also announced they are interested in vape detectors and are simultaneously planning to increase the punishment for students caught vaping to thee days of suspension. In the suburbs of Chicago, several schools brought vape detectors in as well, according to WGN9, and earlier this year, Ridgefield High School in Connecticut also made the decision to install vapor detectors in its bathrooms.

In a statement sent to Insider, Soter Technologies CEO Derek Peterson said the company has seen their sales grow as concerns over vaping have increased.

“As states across the nation have adopted stricter laws prohibiting vaping in schools and other environments, [we] have seen rapid growth in the demand for our vape detection system,” Peterson said.

Peterson told Insider over a phone interview that their first vape detector was released in 2016. Since then, “well over a thousand” schools across the country have partnered with the company and purchased their products.

School responses to vaping spark some privacy concerns

In desperate attempts to quell teen vaping, schools around the country have sometimes blurred the line between security and invasion of privacy. Earlier this year, a high school in Texas came under scrutiny after it banned long sleeve shirts and hoodies in an attempt to stop vapers from sneakily blowing smoke into their sleeves. More recently, an Alabama principal made headlines after he ordered the removal of the doors in several of his school’s bathroom stalls. In that Alabama case, the doors were put back in one week later after parents issued concerns about their children’s privacy.

These vape detectors, which will by design need to be implemented in private places where students frequently vape, may pose similar privacy concerns, especially due to their ability to detect sound. There are also some concerns about potential false-positive rates. At Conant High School, in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, officials reportedly installed and then removed vape detectors from its bathrooms after multiple false readings. When asked about false readings, Soter Technologies’ Peterson said those incidents have occurred in the past but have diminished with newer models.

Peterson pointed to a case in an Ohio school where an outpouring of asbestos had triggered the vape detector. After that incident, the company updated the software to better distinguish between asbestos and vape smoke. As for worries of possible surveillance, Peterson told Insider that rather than record any audio, the device only measures how loud a sound is in decibels.

Some experts worry these vape detectors are short term solution to a larger, more systemic problem. In a statement provided to Insider, Mark Calarco, the National Medical Director for Clinical Diagnostics at the American Addiction Centers said schools should focus more on education.

“If you just try to suppress their behavior rather than educating them, I don’t think it will be very successful based on what we’ve seen historically,” Calarco said. “Every generation has found clever ways to circumvent those surveillance mechanisms. Young people need to be educated that vaping may not be a safer alternative to cigarette smoking.” Peterson acknowledged that some motivated kids will always find ways to evade the detectors, but said they were still a benefit.

“This is not meant to be the end all be all to end vaping, but it’s helping,” Peterson said.

Some of these devices can send alerts to school officials, telling them the precise location of smoker on campus.

Will Vapes, Cigarettes, Etc. Trigger a Fire Alarm or Sprinklers?

If you smoke, you may be wondering whether it’s safe to light up near a smoke detector or under a sprinkler head. Users of e-cigarettes and vaporizers may have the same question. Find the answers to your concerns here.

Can Cigarette Smoke Trigger a Fire Alarm?

The short answer is yes, it can. Modern smoke detectors are more sensitive than older models because smoking indoors is prohibited in most public buildings today. Since cigarette smoke no longer swirls in the hallways, today’s detectors are designed with greater sensitivity so they can sense a developing fire as fast as possible.

However, while it’s possible to set off a fire alarm by smoking, reports of such incidents are rare. After all, the smoke from a single cigarette is minimal and dissipates into the air quickly.

That being said, it’s highly recommended that you only smoke outdoors. According to the National Fire Protection Association, smoking materials—including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes—ignited an estimated 17,200 homes in 2014. These fires resulted in 570 deaths, 1,140 injuries, and $426 million in property damage. When you smoke outdoors, there isn’t a chance of accidentally igniting your bedding or carpet, and you can safely wet the butts and dispose of them in an outside garbage can.

What About E-Cigarettes and Vaporizers?

Unlike conventional cigarettes, these battery-powered versions create vapor as a byproduct, not smoke. Despite this, they can still set off a fire alarm if you blow vapor directly into it.

All smoke alarms are sensitive to small, airborne particles. Ionization smoke alarms trigger when particles disrupt the electricity traveling between two charged plates. Optical smoke alarms go off when particles scatter a beam of infrared light onto a light detector.

In this way, vapor and smoke have a similar effect on fire alarms. It’s the reason why smoke detectors shouldn’t be installed in bathrooms where steam from a hot shower could cause a false alarm. However, just like smoking, vaping is unlikely to trigger a fire alarm if only one or two vaporizers are in use and you don’t aim directly at a smoke detector.

Are Sprinkler Heads Triggered by Smoke, Vapor, or Heat?

Rest assured that while there’s a small possibility of triggering a fire alarm by smoking or vaping, there’s no chance of setting off the fire sprinklers. Contrary to popular belief, sprinkler heads are triggered by heat, not smoke or vapor.

Each sprinkler head contains a small bulb of colored liquid, which boils at a specific temperature—usually 155 to 165 degrees, depending on the type of sprinkler head it is. When the liquid boils, the glass breaks and the sprinkler releases water to douse the apparent fire below.

This means fire sprinklers are heat detectors rather than smoke detectors. As a result, no amount of smoking or vaping will ever set them off.

Arrange Fire Protection Services in Houston

When you need fire alarm installation or fire sprinkler repair, count on Kauffman Co. for the job. We provide comprehensive fire protection services for residential and commercial customers in Houston.

Let us answer all of your fire alarm and sprinkler-related questions and provide fixes for recurring problems! Simply contact us at 713-893-1090 to ask your questions or request services.

Do you smoke cigarettes or use a vaporizer? Find out how much you are at risk of triggering the fire alarm or fire sprinkler! ]]>