Devices installed in schools to detect whether children are vaping are being set off up to 22 times a day, data has revealed.
The VapeGuardian sensors send a phone notification to teachers when the smallest hint of vapour is detected. They have been installed in nearly 100 schools across the UK and Ireland.
The shocking figure, released by the device’s Southampton-based manufacturer SMF Systems, comes amid the UK’s teen vaping crisis, with nearly one in 10 children now using e-cigarettes.
Simon Hassett, the software engineer behind VapeGuardian, which he claims is the first device of its kind made in the UK, said some pupils are so anxious for their next ‘fix’ they are begging teachers to let them vape at school.
‘We are unwittingly creating a new generation of nicotine addicts,’ he said.
NHS Digital, which quizzed nearly 10,000 students aged 11 to 15 on their smoking, drug and drinking habits last year, found that nine per cent currently vape — the highest rate logged since the survey began in 2014
Mr Hassett stressed his concern at children not being fully aware of the contents of e-cigarettes, with many so anxious for their next ‘fix’ they are begging teachers to let them vape at school
The VapeGuardian sensor (pictured) is the first of its kind manufactured in the UK and can detect the smallest hint of vapour
The sensors detect vapour and the chemicals released from a person’s mouth after they have puffed on an e-cigarette.
It then immediately sends an alert — in the form of a text, email or push notification — to a designated teacher.
The message includes the exact time and location the sensor was set off — so staff can catch those vaping in the act.
The device measures 3.7mx3.7m and costs £260. To date, 77 have been installed in Britain’s schools since the product launched six months ago.
Schools have to buy the sensors themselves.
Data from the devices across 77 secondary schools suggests they are being set off 17 to 22 times a day.
The company says that schools with VapeGuardian sensors see this figure half after one week to an average of 8-11 alerts and these figures continue to decline consistently week after week.
Vaping has become an epidemic across UK schools, according to leading health experts such as Dr Mike McKean, vice-president of policy for the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health.
A report from Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) last year found the proportion of children aged 11 to 17 currently vaping jumped from 4 per cent in 2020 to 7 per cent in 2022.
In 2013, just 3 per cent of children aged 11 to 15 had ever vaped, but this rose to 8 per cent in 2020 and 10 per cent in 2022.
Plain packaging for cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco products was introduced in the UK in 2017.
Dr McKean recently said that if this growth continues, almost all children could be vaping within five years.
Mr Hassett said vaping is a problem for teachers but that he and his team were shocked when they saw the extent of the e-cigarette use in schools.
Schools have told Mr Hassett that they are increasingly concerned about the physical and mental health and safety of their pupils who vape.
Many teachers say pupils who vape are becoming anxious in lessons, which he put down to the addictiveness of the high levels of nicotine present in most e-cigarettes.
One teacher in Salisbury told Mr Hassett that pupils are even ‘pleading’ to be able to vape in school as they need to get a fix.
The sensor was designed by software engineer, Simon Hassett (pictured), 36, who stressed his concern at children not being fully aware of the contents of e-cigarettes
One in 10 secondary school pupils are now vape-users, despite the uncertainty surrounding their long-term impact on health
Mr Hassett said that his concerns as a father about the risks of vaping inspired him to try to tackle the ever-growing issue.
The sensors detect vapour once it has come out of someone’s lungs and Mr Hassett said he has been ‘particularly shocked’ by the amount of nicotine and microplastics in each puff.
Studies have shown that disposable e-cigarettes are increasing in popularity, in part because they cost around £5 each and come in a wide range of colours and fruity flavours.
Mr Hassett said that he and his team are ‘fully committed to supporting schools across the UK’, but that tighter regulations are need to ‘reduce the attractiveness of vaping’.
He said without these regulations, the ‘popularity pandemic will continue to rise.’
Mr Hassett added: ‘We want to collaborate with the health and education sector to ensure regulations go further to protect children from taking up vaping in the first place, as well as explore better guidance to support schools in reducing the problem.’
The father-of-four, from Southampton, launched the product in October 2022 under his company SMF Systems, employing a couple of PHD students to find out the specific ingredients used within vapes.
He was then able to programme his device to detect these ingredients in the vapour they release.