DERBY, Kan. (KAKE) - Every year, back-to-school means new challenges for districts across the state. This year, one challenge is how to slow the trend of vaping among Kansas teens.

Like many schools, restrooms are popular places for those who vape. Derby High School is no exception, but this year, the restrooms are equipped with something new: vape detectors.

Matt Liston is a security officer at Derby.

“Everybody’s having the same issue with vaping. It’s the newest, greatest thing with kids,” he says. “We're getting just a little bit more aggressive with how we want to kind of deal with it here in Derby, specifically spending quite a bit of money on new vape detectors throughout the district.”

Vape detectors can find tiny molecules of vapor in the air. When they do, they set off an alarm in the office, letting administrators and staff know.

“Vaping is so new, and it's evolving. And of course kids are at the forefront of it. And ahead of the game,” remarks Hina Shah of the Kansas Health Institute. 

Shah goes on to say that 14.4% of Kansas teens report vaping tobacco. While that’s down from a peak of 22% before the pandemic, there’s a national swing in what teens are actually vaping that worries researchers: some teens are vaping marijuana, too.

“It’s not like smoking a cigarette back when we were younger,” said Liston. “There’s a lot more chemicals, a lot more things that go on and affect the body than cigarettes do.”

Researchers say teen brains are at a developmental stage that makes them more susceptible to addiction and that they can become addicted quickly. This is due to the heightened amount of nicotine and the ability to actually absorb that nicotine into the blood.

Attempts to stem the growing tide of teen vaping aren’t limited to Derby Public Schools, and the vape detectors aren’t the only thing the school is doing to prevent vaping. They’re also starting up “Panther Watch:” parents who have passed a background check are invited into the building to patrol the hallways along with teachers and school security. 

“We know that adult presence is a good way to reduce things that go on in school buildings, whether it be behaviors or things that are (kids) aren’t supposed to be bringing into the buildings. More adults, I think help,” Liston said.

The school is also adding vaping to the curriculum, beginning in fifth grade, because statistics show that four out of 10 Kansas high school students began vaping because a friend or family member already does. 

Gretchen Pontius is the Principal of Derby High School.

“Some kids don't see the issue. They feel comfortable,” she admits. “This is what they're doing. That's just their norm. Our goal is to put more on this is why it's not a ‘good choice for me route.’"

One reason why schools feel as if these measures are necessary is because vape pens are easy to hide. Many look like flash drives or even highlighters, making them easier to sneak into school.

As for the increased use of THC vape juices, we do not have actual numbers for that here in Kansas; rather, we have the national numbers. That is because Kansas doesn’t ask students what they’re vaping: just if they are.