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Smoking out vapers

Smoking out vapers
Mount Hutt College principal Jack Saxon says the school doesnt have a big problem with vaping but is trialling vape sensors to "stay ahead of the game". SUPPLIED

A secondary school in Mid Canterbury is trialling sensors in a bid to smoke out vapers in the loos.

Mount Hutt College Methven principal Jack Saxon said the school is trialling a vape sensor in one of its toilet blocks.

The sensor, placed inside the toilet block, triggers a camera at the hallway access to the toilet.

It allowed the school to identify students who may need support with vape cessation programmes, Saxon said.

“We don't have a significant issue with vaping in our school, which stands in stark contrast to our inner-city cousins, but we are trying to stay ahead of the game around this.

“Bullying in toilets has not been identified as a significant issue in student wellbeing surveys so at this stage the camera trial is targeting vaping at school.”

The trial was tabled with the school's Board of Trustees before going ahead and the results of the trial will go back to the board to determine if the sensors are rolled out across the campus, Saxon said.

The growing youth vaping epidemic has left schools around the country grappling with ways to manage it.

Earlier this year, Rangiora High School principal Bruce Kearney said vaping had led to anti-social gatherings around bathrooms and the school was determined to stamp it out by introducing cameras and sensors across the school.

Other schools have been calling the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) asking about their options for using Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in toilet blocks to deter negative behaviour such as vaping and bullying.

Privacy Commissioner Michael Webster said that bathrooms are highly sensitive zones for privacy and there are some clear points that schools need to consider first.

“Everyone, regardless of their age, has privacy rights,” he said.

Schools need to be open with their communities about using CCTV and have clear signage and notices of it, and focus cameras away from intimate activity.

Schools can't use audio recordings to pick up conversations without additional privacy assessments, he said.

Ashburton Intermediate principal, Brent Gray, said CCTV in or around the school's bathrooms was not something they are considering.

Ashburton College principal Ross Preece said the school’s new classroom blocks, as part of its $60m rebuild, will be fitted with cameras outside of toilet blocks.

“We are not looking at vape sensors but it is something the radar,” Preece said.

Every secondary school is dealing with the rise of vaping Preece said.

He said health authorities needed to be doing more to limit youth vaping, rather than schools installing preventative measures.

Statistics show a high number of students who have never smoked cigarettes are being introduced to nicotine, the highly addictive substance found in tobacco, via vaping.

The annual ASH Year 10 (15 and 16-year-olds) survey showed 39% of students in Canterbury reported ever vaping in 2022, and 41% in South Canterbury.

Vaping is not just an issue for secondary schools.

Rakaia School principal Mark Ellis said there were undoubtedly children giving vaping a go.

“I’m not seeing vapes often, once a year, maybe. About three times since it became a fad over the last three or four years ago.

“And some will be trying it on the weekends, inspired by their big brothers and sisters.”

In his 17 years teaching primary he had only experienced one incident of cigarettes in school.

Vaping is one of those “attractive things they see other people doing and want to try”, Ellis said.

Knowing how to deal with it at school is a bit of a grey area, he said.

“As school principal, I’ll deal with that with the tools that I have. If that means I have to stand a child down, I will.”

By Jonathan Leask