Detectors are not the answer: Whitman needs more effective vape-prevention strategies


Vassili Prokopenko

Rather than relying on a simple detector, a focus on education and self-improvement will benefit students’ mental and physical health in a much more profound way.

By Drake Poe

We’ve all seen it — students lingering in bathroom stalls during class, the smells of cheap artificial flavoring and nicotine filling the air. Since the early 2000s, when the “safe” alternative to cigarettes first hit the shelves, vaping has proved to be an issue. Adolescent use of e-cigarettes has increased by 1000% since 2020, and according to the FDA, 14.1% (2.14 million) of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2022. Vaping has become prevalent nationwide, and school administrators are rushing to find solutions to end this epidemic. 

MCPS employees have experimented with many programs aimed at curbing teen vaping, including warning posters, lessons in health curriculums and security guards on patrol of bathrooms. However, most of these measures are ineffective. If MCPS officials truly aim to stop vaping within schools, they should introduce informative programs to push for a more open attitude toward student vaping. 

Vaping among middle and high school students is rising, prompting MCPS to turn to more creative ideas, the most recent being bathroom vape detectors. These vape detectors hang from the ceilings above stalls and ping administrators when smoke is detected. 

While the solution may seem promising, vape detectors will only highlight a more complex problem in high schools countywide — students’ complete disregard for MCPS rules. Schools nationwide are facing an increasing discipline problem among students due to the pandemic. Schools need to focus their efforts on testing and modifying their policies if they want students to listen.

The current strategy of vape prevention within Whitman seems to be intimidation. Administrators threaten a no-tolerance policy towards vaping and dispatch security guards to patrol bathrooms and hallways.

Despite the routine checks and punishment policy, students still vape on school grounds. Without a change in Whitman’s current policies, students’ disregard for rules within Whitman will only continue.

An anonymous sophomore believes that these intimidation methods are not effective at curbing vape use.

 “As somebody who’s recently quit vaping and has friends who vape, you just blow the smoke in other directions,” the sophomore said. “If a kid wants to vape they’re gonna vape.”

Whitman’s zero-tolerance policy leads students to see rule enforcement as the enemy, rather than the actual act of vaping. By implementing clear, firm policies for prevention, such as research-proven programs that combat addiction through evidence-based strategies, Whitman students will be able to recognize their problem and have the means and motivation to quit. These programs also prevent students from vaping in the future because they implement good habits within teenagers that allow for sustainability for quitting. A study by Truth Initiative, an anti-vaping campaign, showed that 25.9% of the students in “This is Quitting,” Truth Initiative’s quit vaping program, quit their addiction, while only 18.5% of students who were not in the program quit.

Most Whitman students are aware of the physical consequences of vaping, though the frequent reminders with posters and assemblies haven’t been effective in discouraging those who vape. Educational and affirming programs that encourage the benefits of a healthier lifestyle and expose students to the present and future consequences that are caused by vaping would greatly improve the atmosphere at Whitman and instigate change. According to Truth Initiative, responding to students with more of a supportive approach will allow for greater outcomes for students and the administration. 

Creating an outlet for students to speak about their addiction would allow them to quit more productively.  Programs that encourage students to learn about the waste and destruction of time, money and well-being that vaping causes are much more beneficial for students than simple vape detectors.

Whitman Administrator Misirach Seyoum believes that creating a more safe and more supportive environment is the right approach toward combating the vaping issue at Whitman.

“We’re always looking for ways to support our students not only with education of vaping in the consequences from them, but also in supporting students,” Misirach said, “I think you need to have it on both fronts.”

Although Whitman already has lessons about the dangers of vaping in health class, administrators should recognize the value of these and rework them to focus more on rehabilitation instead of mainly prevention. Health class lessons highlight the problem but don’t explain how to fix the problem. There are many students addicted to nicotine at Whitman and unless Whitman takes the proper steps to allow for rehabilitation, nothing will change. While it may seem challenging to try to reexamine and change policies, we must implement these changes to create a healthier and better environment at Whitman. 

Vaping is costing students their money and physical health for a cheap hit of dopamine. Rather than relying on a simple detector, a focus on education and self-improvement will benefit students’ mental and physical health in a much more profound way.