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Crackdown on Vaping at School Includes Detectors, Court Hearings

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Students caught with sleek electronic cigarettes or vaping devices on Oak Ridge Schools property can expect a citation to appear in court in addition to school suspension and required health classes.

HALO vaping detector can detect vapor from an e-cigarette or vaping device.

It's all part of a crackdown to prevent and deter students from becoming addicted to this latest version of a cigarette. The state of Tennessee has 74 reported cases of lung injury from vaping or e-cigarettes.

"I want to do everything that I can to help them understand what some of the potential dangers are and what some of the risks are," said Principal Martin McDonald at Oak Ridge High School. There, a pilot program will begin with a new HALO vaping detector in one of the bathrooms. The detector is sensitive enough to tell the difference between different types of smoke and mist, giving clues to their chemical composition.

The HALO detector is a new technology that costs at least $1,200, and this first one for Oak Ridge Schools is provided by anti-drug group ASAP of Anderson County. Plans are already in the works for the community to provide two more detectors for the school system's two middle schools.

When school resumes in 2020, a first offense with tobacco or vaping will be a five-day suspension from school. A student caught distributing vape items would receive seven days. Bruce Lay, Executive Director of School Leadership for Oak Ridge Schools said, "We've also added a tobacco/vaping required class, so any student that is caught vaping for their first offense, or smoking, they can reduce the number of days they're suspended out of school by attending that class."

Educators stress they need a combination of prevention and penalties along with education, as they strive to prevent students from getting hooked on vaping. Devices such as dab pens that contain THC will trigger an even tougher zero-tolerance response under the school system's anti-drug policy.

Teen leader Mily Vidal volunteers with ASAP of Anderson County, and said she hopes more of her peers will choose not to vape, "and I want everybody to be healthy and safe." However, Vidal said adults may be shocked to find out how many students are trying vaping these days. "I think it's a lot more than everybody thinks. Like the smartest kids that get 30s on the ACT absolutely do it."

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