Lebanon tech startup developing vaping detector

Published: Oct. 18, 2019 at 1:54 PM EDT
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Vaping-related deaths continue to rise across the country along with the number of young people using the products. In an effort to curb the trend, especially when it comes to use among teenagers, a Lebanon-based technology company is developing a smart detector that uses the cloud.

According to the CDC, 3.6 million high school and middle schoolers have used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. And because the odor is harder to detect than regular cigarettes, educators say kids are vaping in school bathrooms, and even sometimes in the classroom, without getting caught.

"We are very aware that this is a huge problem in high school, said Jack O'Toole, the co-founder of FreshAir Sensors. The company was created six years ago to detect cigarette and marijuana smoke. Tens of thousands of these devices are installed in hotels, business complexes and apartment houses across the country. The devices connect to an app which is monitored by cloud-base software. It alerts a hotel owner within minutes if someone is smoking in a room. The company is currently working on a new sensor to detect vaping in a school.

"In vaping, your body metabolizes almost all of the nicotine that goes into it, so you can't really use nicotine to detect vaping. So, we made to detect the liquid that is carrying the nicotine," O'Toole said.

FreshAir applied for and received two fast-track grants from the National Institutes of Health totaling $1.25 million to help speed up development. In some ways it's a race against the clock, as youth addiction continues to trend upward.

"They get a very limited time outside of adult supervision, even in high school, if you look at an average youth's day. So, if you reduce their opportunity to vape, you are reducing their overall use of nicotine and the number of kids who are going to vape. Certainly our desire is to help push down youth use, help fight youth addiction," O'Toole said.

Company officials say they should begin testing the product in schools by the end of this school year. They say the product will likely be ready for the commercial market in about 18 months.