SCHOOLS across America are increasingly installing Artifical Intelligence in bathrooms to catch young vapers, it has been revealed.
Pro-vapers have slammed the latest extreme measures in response to a so-called vaping “epidemic” sweeping the US, saying underage use of e-cigarettes has been vastly over-exaggerated by the media and campaign groups.
But over 200 schools in 23 American states and Canada have installed special AI devices, which are trained to detect the water vapour signatures coming from vaping pens, e-cigarettes and other vaping paraphernalia. Its manufacturers claim it is now receiving 20 new inquiries a day from schools.
The Fly Sense device, which uses machine-learned AI, was originally developed by Soter Technologies to detect bullying in school, since it also reacts to elevated sound levels that might indicate fighting. But it has quickly been brought in to monitor vaping instead as concerns among parents rise.
It works by using technology which detects vape cloud in the bathroom’s atmosphere before sending an alert to a school administrator who can then check in person if a school child is vaping. The technology is also continually updated to sense new vape products on the market.
“Schools typically install the system and see a spike of vaping incidents in the first two weeks,” says Derek Peterson, CEO of Soter Technologies. “And then as they continue to go through their school policy plan of reprimanding the students, they start to see vaping incidents in those locations tail off.”
The dramatic move comes as schools have been removing bathroom doors or even closing bathroom blocks to try and curb vaping among students.
Each unit costs US $995, which includes one year of service and the schools must pay $150 per unit per year to subscribe to the monitoring service.
“We probably will have about 20 inquiries a day from schools looking to buy the product,” Peterson added.
But the news comes as a new government campaign to place posters on the “dangers” of e-cigarettes in 10,000 high school bathrooms across America was also slammed by some academics and pro-health campaigners, who have branded the Food and Drug Administration's anti-vape drive as “irresponsible”.
The FDA announced a new campaign last month to warn teens and young people off vaping in response to a so-called “epidemic” sweeping the nation, with a new package of disturbing commercials.
In one of the online commercials entitled "An Epidemic Is Spreading”, a worm-like creature, representing vape entering the body, is seen spreading across the skin of teenagers like a disease.
While some experts say the strange sci-fi-style scare tactics are unlikely to work on teenagers, other reports have slammed the commercials for being created to stop a "vape epidemic", that wasn’t based on statistical fact in the first place.
E-cigarette use among high school students was 11.7 percent in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was substantially down from its high point of 16 per cent in 2015.
According to the research, vaping is also less popular with teens than either alcohol or marijuana. Smoking amongst high school students, meanwhile, fell to a record low of 7.6 per cent in 2017, compared to eight per cent the previous year and 15.8 per cent in 2011.
Speaking about the new ads, Mike Siegel, researcher and professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, told Radio Boston that while he encouraged awareness of vaping to minors, the ads were unlikely to work. He explained those teens who were vaping would likely continue, since it’s deemed rebellious - but with few health implications compared to cigarette smoking.
He said: “First of all if you look at this particular campaign, they are using the typical scare tactics which we often fall back on and we know that these scare tactics really don’t work on adolescents.
“They are going to take a look at these messages and they’re going to dismiss them because they don’t drive with what they see. When they inhale, they don’t have worms crawl through their skins….this is not something they see in their life.”
Clive Bates, director of advocacy group Counterfactual, also raised the question that perhaps the government drive and moral panic surrounding it by schools, anti-tobacco organizations and well-meaning parents was actually the very reason that teen vaping was occurring, since it made e-cigarettes more appealing to the rebellious nature of teenagers.
He asked on Twitter: “Q. Is the FDA-sponsored moral panic over @JUULvapor driving kids to vape? Are the panic-stricken statements of @FDATobacco @TobaccoFreeKids & @SGottliebFDA actually causing their 'epidemic'? What self-respecting teen could ignore these adult provocations?”