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Can Drug Dogs Smell Vapes?

Published October 25th, 2023 by 3DK9 LLC

A dog's sense of smell is a lot stronger than you may realize. Humans have 2 million nose receptors, while they've got 250 million. In practical terms, that means a pooch could theoretically scent a drop of blood hidden in a swimming pool.

This makes dogs the ideal method for rooting out illegal drugs and narcotics. The thing is, drug delivery methods have been changing, presenting new challenges for a drug-sniffing dog. Take, for example, the recent explosion in the popularity of vaping.

Vape can easily contain illegal drugs. Can drug dogs smell vapes?

Read on as we discuss whether a drug-detection dog is up to the task.

What Are Vapes?

Vape (short for vaporizer), also called an e-cigarette, is a small, handheld electronic device for nicotine consumption. It functions much like a cigarette, in that the user inhales from the mouthpiece to get their fix. Instead of smoke, though, it uses heated water vapor.

Vaping began as an alternative to smoking, especially to help people wean themselves off and quit for good. Unfortunately, it has surged in popularity among younger generations, especially Gen Z. Many experts consider it to be a new age of nicotine addiction for younger generations.

Vaping is, in some ways, less harmful than cigarette smoking. It doesn't produce a nasty smoke and tar smell, is not cancerous, and presents less of an issue for secondary vape inhalers. However, vape is far from being without its own issues.

What's the Problem With Vaping?

First, many vape users are underage. Children as young as 12 partake in vaping with friends due to peer pressure and aggressive marketing tactics from vape companies. This means there are many young nicotine addicts who keep a vape device with them everywhere to get their fix.

Second, a vape can incorporate illegal substances such as marijuana, ketamine, LSD, and more. Vape uses e-liquid in "carts," or cartridges. This liquid looks the same regardless of the substance, making it impossible to distinguish illegal drugs from legal ones. 

It might take expert knowledge and a drug test to determine if a "cart" contains a scheduled substance. A guard checking bags at the door would have no way of differentiating nicotine from anything else without special tools. They'd likely have to delay the intake line to conduct drug tests, too.

Since a vape produces minimal scent compared to smoked alternatives, it makes it even more difficult to identify illegal drugs-without a dog, at least.

The Risk Vape Presents to Event Security

Obviously, this creates a concerning problem for public gatherings and events. Individuals, whether adults or teens, could be bringing illicit substances onto a property. They could be vaping them right under your nose, and you would never know it.

Plus, the law still makes it illegal for minors to purchase or use vapes. The police might have to intervene if they discover a minor possessing any type of vape on your property.

It's in an event manager or property owner's best interest to control substances on their premises. Especially vapes that contain illegal drugs. So, is a drug detection train dog up to the task?

Can Drug Dogs Smell Vapes?

The answer is that it depends. Every drug detection dog trains on the scents of a select number of illicit substances. They can identify any of the following:

  • Marijuana
  • Opioids and opiates
  • Psilocybin
  • Methamphetamines

Further, a drug-sniffing dog can detect variants of the same chemical compound. For example, if they can detect crack cocaine, they can also detect heroin-even if they weren't trained on it specifically. This is because heroin comes from the same drug family and has a similar chemical structure and smell.

A dog can only learn a limited number of scents, approximately 6 to 8. If you are looking for fentanyl, and the dog hasn't been trained on it, then you won't find it. For this reason, you would need to have a dog that has experience with the drug(s) you are most concerned about.

Therefore, if a vape contains an illegal substance that the dog was trained to detect, then they can find it. If they haven't, you'd be out of luck.

Do Vape Cartridges Present Any Additional Challenges?

Unlike other drugs, vape comes in a closed cartridge. The only drug residue after vaping would be on the mouthpiece, the container, or on the user. If it's a sealed, unused container, would this present a challenge to a drug-sniffing dog?

No. In the manufacturing process, it's virtually impossible for drug producers to avoid leaving at least a trace amount of material on the cartridge's outer surface. Plus, once you insert a vape cartridge into an e-cigarette, this opens it and releases the scent.

Dogs are very, very good at finding scents even when something is masking them, such as a stinky diaper bag. A sealed container doesn't present any meaningful obstacle. If there's an illegal drug somewhere, even a minuscule amount, they'll locate it.

Can Drug-Sniffing Dogs Detect Nicotine?

In theory, you could train a dog to sniff out anything, from nicotine to alcohol. Since nicotine is not a scheduled drug, though, most drug sniffing dogs do not learn to detect it. 

So, if someone had a nicotine vape cartridge on their person, the dog would smell it. But they wouldn't react and alert their holder. That scent of nicotine would just be one of thousands that they ignore.

Of course, nicotine, being legal, is less of a concern. It's really only an issue when minors have it or use it, or when it's prohibited on the premises.

You would need a guard to do a pat-down or search in order to find vape cartridges, just as you might regular cigarettes.

Hire a Drug Detection Dog With 3DK9

Can drug dogs smell vapes? Yes, they can, provided the vape contains illegal drugs that a particular dog is trained to detect. If the vape only has nicotine, then other methods would be necessary to find it.

3DK9 provides highly-trained security dogs capable of finding drugs and explosives, doing patrols, and more. We proudly serve the entire United States. Leave us a message if you would like to make a K9 unit part of your security solutions.

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