LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Advertisements for electric vape pens that look and feel like a traditional cigarette often claimed to help wean smokers off of the real thing years ago. But today, instead of getting people off of nicotine, adults and teens alike are getting hooked on vaping itself.
They’re sold a vape shops, online and even at gas stations. As their popularity has grown, creative manufacturers have come up with discreet, almost unrecognizable vaping devices, sparking a new trend among teens. With targeted marketing, intriguing names and sleek, stealthy new styles, experts in drug abuse prevention believe teen consumers are actually the key demographic for products like The Blu, The Bo, The Solo, and The Juul. The Juul looks like a mini USB and plugs into a computer.
The devices themselves can be so discreet, parents and teachers don’t even know they are right under their noses, at home, in the classroom and just about anywhere. There is no strong smell, no real mess and it's totally discreet. A Juul starter kit comes in under $50, and replacement cartridges containing e-juice are $3.
In the state of Illinois you are supposed to be 18 to buy e-cigarettes or the vape juice that gives them flavor. But parents have been in the dark about these often misleading devices that are packed with addictive nicotine products. It says so right on the company website: one full Juul pod contains the equivalent of one full pack of cigarettes, or about 200 puffs. Yet teens have been known to puff an entire pod in one sitting.
In suburban Lake Forest, one superintendent hopes he is well on his way to keeping e-cigarettes off his campus by turning to police. Mike Simeck, Superintendent of District 115 in Lake Forest, worked with the city council to close a legal loophole that he hoped could help curb the vaping problem at his high school.
“Kids had zip drives, or thumb-drives as they are called, in their computers and the kids don’t use thumb drives any more,” Simeck said.
E-cigarettes already weren’t allowed in school, and consequences were detention or something close to it. But since December 18, 2017, law enforcement is now called in too. Violators can get a citation from a school resource officer or an officer on the street. It’s a citation that goes into the public record and comes with even more consequences.
“Whether you have to go to counseling, pay a fine, different things that may or may not go along with that,” Simeck said.
Now, five months later, Simeck says it is hardly even a topic during his workweek whereas before, he used to deal with students vaping daily.
“There is no question that it has diminished the use,” he said. “Probably the most important part of that is the awareness that kids have. ‘Hey this isn’t a good thing to be doing to my body.’ … Many of them weren’t aware at all -they thought it was like inhaling steam.”
The FDA was only recently given the authority to regulate electronic nicotine delivery devices. The products haven’t been in the marketplace long enough for studies to prove anything one way or the other when it comes to your health.
The nonprofit Linking Efforts Against Drugs or LEAD has been watching the vape market for years, but parents began tuning in only recently. LEAD Executive Director Andy Duran said only a few people would come to their early talks discussing vaping devices, but now he sees a couple hundred. Duran says parents need to tell their kids they disapprove. He says it makes a difference.
"If a young person starts vaping between the ages of 12-17, they are up to four to five time more likely to begin smoking traditional cigarettes," Duran said.
While the devices themselves are often discreet, here are some signs your child might be vaping:
- Users are thirsty or suddenly have an aversion to caffeine-based products like Red Bull or coffee.
- Constant users are prone to bloody noses, and a subtle sweet smell hangs on their breath or clothes
- Oily counter tops or tables could be signs of the waxy, flavored juice