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'JUULing:' The health concerns for parents of kids who are following the dangerous trend

(WSET)

BEDFORD Co., Va. (WSET) -- As e-cigarettes and vapes help adults quit the tobacco habit, the JUUL is booming in popularity among teenagers.

For starters, teenagers like that it can be hidden in plain sight as it looks like a flash drive and charges by USB and it comes in flavors like crème Brulee, which smells almost as tasty as a caramel macchiato.

There are several kinds of vapes that look like the JUUL, but this brand alone accounts for half of the e-cigarette market.

In 2016, the company saw a 700-percent increase in sales, more than $322 million and it's marketed as an adult alternative to cigarettes.

Teenagers in our area are getting their hands on them and they've made their way into local high schools, even middle schools.

"We have just recently seen a rise in students possessing these devices at Jefferson Forest High," Bedford County Public Schools spokesperson, Ryan Edwards said. "Yesterday at the school's weekly faculty meeting, all staff were educated on what the devices look like and we asked them to be vigilant in spotting them."

The e-cigarettes may fool some adults, but Tobacco Treatment Specialist, Cheryl Burnette, says many teenagers know what they are.

"They are very popular right now with teenagers and college campuses," Burnette, said.

"We've had issues, we are actively looking around for it, it occurs in the bathrooms, parking lot after school, I do patrol after school," said Rachel Goff, a school resource officer with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office.

Goff said having tobacco on school grounds is against the rules, even if you are over 18.

"It's mostly a situation we like to handle within the school, and help parents become aware, because like I said, they don't know," Goff added.

'JUULing' has only been around for about three years, so Burnette said right now we don't know the long term damage it could cause, although one pod for the JUUL has as much nicotine in it as a pack of cigarettes and she said that's why you need to be concerned about your kids using them.

"Anything that you vape goes into your lungs, goes into your blood stream, goes into every cell of your body," Burnette said, adding that it can also impact your child's brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, which makes judgment calls and is the decision making center. "You think about all the things that teenagers do that just don't seem logical, going to be worse if they have nicotine."

Burnette said students might not stop at 'JUULing.'

"They speculate it as a gateway drug that makes you more apt to go into something harder: heroin, whatever," she said, and that one quick hit could make an adolescent an addict. "If you get hooked on the JUULs, which you will, it's nicotine, you have to go from smoking a pack a day to nothing."

One problem for parents is that a JUUL is easy for anyone to buy online.

It's not clear all of the ingredients inside a JUUL and it isn’t regulated by the government.

The company who manufactures JUULs issued a statement saying they take the issue of underage use of its product very serious and has efforts underway to help address the problem:

“JUUL Labs’ mission is to eliminate cigarette smoking by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes. JUUL is not intended for anyone else. We strongly condemn the use of our product by minors, and it is in fact illegal to sell our product to minors. No minor should be in possession of a JUUL product.
Our goal is to further reduce the number of minors who possess or use tobacco products, including vapor products, and to find ways to keep young people from ever trying these products. We approach this with a combination of education, enforcement, technology and partnership with others who are focused on this issue, including lawmakers, educators and our business partners.
An individual who has not previously used nicotine products should not start, particularly youth. Recent science raises serious concerns about the adverse effect of nicotine on adolescent neurodevelopment.
We encourage parents to talk with their children about the dangers of nicotine. As a company we also continuously seek ways to contribute to this dialogue and knowledge base.”

The JUUL official website has information on underage use of the product which can be found by clicking here.

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