If you’re one of those ardent smokers who goes off on a rant about “freedom” when someone tells you you aren’t allowed to light up on an airplane, it’s already hard to find a hotel that will let you inhale your fumes in peace. But folk wisdom has long held that pot smokers can get away with toking in non-smoking hotel rooms because the smell doesn’t stick around.
Not anymore, though, at least not if Dartmouth professor Joseph J. BelBruno and the rest of the team behind the new device they’re calling the AirGuard have anything to say about it. Their baby is a detector sophisticated enough to know the difference between smoke and smoking, and it’s intended not just for hotels but for any shared space where smoking is meant to be discouraged, like your dorm-meaning narc-leaning RAs all over the country can rejoice.
If a conventional smoke detector is like a screaming baby, the AirGuard is like a covert spy lurking over your shoulder recording your smoking habits and tattling on you. And whether you indulge yourself a cigarette, a pipe, a cigar, or a joint, it’s on to you.
To find out exactly how this is going to make potheads’ lives difficult, I got in touch with BelBruno.
VICE: So this device doesn’t just detect smoke. Instead, it knows when you’re smoking?
Joseph BelBruno: Yeah, that’s correct. It detects nicotine.
And if you’re smoking pot, it picks up THC?
No, it’s detecting another chemical that’s much more prevalent in marijuana smoke.
And that chemical is a secret?
For now it is. It probably will be [revealed] once we’re actually out there selling them, but for now it is, yeah. Sorry.
People are going to be mad and insist that their pot smoke isn’t a problem because the smell doesn’t linger. People tell me it hangs around for 12 hours, tops.
I was surprised when talking to the hotels that they find it much more of a problem than cigarette smoking. [They say] that there are many more people who do it. It does stick around some. Twelve hours is nice to think about, but it’s not really true, at least from their point of view. Originally we were only working on nicotine and discussing this with hotels, but during market surveys, that question kept coming up: “Can you do marijuana as well? Because we have a problem there too.”
Conventional wisdom is that the smell fades, and it doesn’t stain a room yellow.
It doesn’t cause such extensive cleaning-I think you’re correct there. It really isn’t as bad in terms of hanging around quite as long, but from their point of view, if someone else is renting the room the next night, they often complain and ask for a different room, which is one of the issues that the hotels have with it. It’s not always just the cleaning; it’s being able to rent the room out for the next night.
Since it detects nicotine, will it know when people are using e-cigarettes?
I’d say no. An e-cigarette doesn’t burn when you’re not smoking it. There’s always a bit of a delay between drawing it in and not drawing in on the cigarette, and there may be some smoke that escapes, but it can’t be very much nicotine that escapes. So no.
At least there’s that.
E-cigarettes appear to be really only dangerous to the smoker, if they’re dangerous at all. Depends on your view of nicotine.
Is it mostly for hotels, or will there be other uses?
We’ve had people call from public housing, for example, and from those who own multifamily housing where it’s supposed to be a smoke-free environment. And they’re interested in using it in dormitories, nursing homes, various kinds of places like that where there’s lots of shared living space. They’re all interested. We are planning to build a device that’s more portable, that’s battery-powered, and that one could be used for any of these scientific studies as well to look at exposure of children or anyone really in a different environment.
What does it do instead of just beeping if someone smokes?
We’re working on two sets of devices. One set that stores the information and you could go with an Android device and read out any event that’s happened. You can inquire of the device, have there been smoking events? And it will tell you when they were. The other device, you can be hooked up to someone’s WiFi system and that will report back and tell that smoking has occurred in a particular place.
And it pages a bellhop to come yell at you for smoking?
That’s what most of the hotels we’ve talked to are interested in. Whether they would immediately show up there, I don’t know. That’s sort of up to the hotel, but they would be able to do that and just phone up the room and say, “We would like you to stop smoking, we know you’re smoking in there.” From their point of view, they’re protecting their nonsmoking rooms. They don’t want the cost of cleaning up the room to make the rest of us happy when we’re in there.