Photo: Steven Senne / Associated Press
BOSTON – Sneaking a cigarette in the school bathroom? How picturesque. The teens of today have come for vaping, an alternative to smoking that is so discreet that they can do it without having to leave the classroom.
Health and education officials across the country are alarming the widespread use of e-cigarettes and other steam products. The devices heat liquid to an inhalable vapor that is sold in sugary flavors like mango and mint – and often with the addictive drug nicotine. They are sold to smokers as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, but officials say they get to the teenagers with surprising ease.
A new wave of smaller vapes has swept through schools in recent months, replacing officials with bulky e-cigarettes from the past.
"We have seen significant increases across the student body," said Robert Keuther, director of Marshfield High School, Massachusetts. "It's not for a group of kids, it's all my grades, nine to twelve, they're all students."
Vaping devices are known to be difficult to detect in schools, often leaving only a quick burst of steam and a light one fruity scent. Students get into it in bathrooms, corridors and even classrooms, where some say they exhale the steam in their shirts.
Although buying e-cigarettes under the age of 18 is illegal – and some states have raised the minimum age to 21 – say they can buy them online or from older friends.
The rise of teen vaping has sparked concerns among parents, politicians and federal health officials who announced a nationwide crackdown on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors on Tuesday.
The Food and Drug Administration warned the retailers as part of their new operation against illegal sales. It also called for marketing and design documents from the San Francisco maker of the Juul, a popular vape product shaped like a flash drive. The agency says it will investigate whether certain traits are particularly attractive to young people.
Some schools were flooded by Juul, who delivers a flavored vapor with higher concentrations of nicotine than tobacco cigarettes.
The manufacturer of the device says that it is only intended for adults who are trying to quit smoking. The site aims to block underage customers and the company supports legislation to raise the minimum age for vaping products nationwide to 21.
Collin Binkley is an Associated Press author.