FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - - The Food and Drug Administration made national headlines when it declared that teen vaping is an epidemic. The agency threatened to stop the sale of flavored e-cigarettes if the manufacturers cannot prove they are doing enough to keep them out of the hands of teens.
JUUL and at least four other manufacturers that dominate the e-cigarette industry are now required to provide plans to reduce sales to young people within 60 days or the companies could face criminal or civil action.
Over the last month, 15 Finds Out has been looking into the popularity of JUUL products. JUUL is a relatively new type of e-cigarette that looks similar to a flash drive and can be charged using the USB port on a computer.
"Here comes this innovative new product that essentially packages this addictive drug [nicotine] in a different form that [kids] haven't been taught to hate," said Nancy Cripe, Executive Director at Tobacco Free Allen County. "They haven't been taught how dangerous it is."
Users attach a JUUL pod to the device which contains high levels of nicotine.
"A kid who is going through a pod a day, and there are a lot of teens out there doing that right now, said Cripe. "They're getting like two pack of cigarettes worth of nicotine or more."
The product has been on the market for just over year, but in that short time JUUL as managed to dominate the e-cigarette market, accounting for roughly 70 percent of the sales. Consumers must be at least 18-years-old to purchase the product but JUUL products are by far the most popular among high school students.
"We know from the data that they are reaching kids big time," said Cripe. "And kids who would not otherwise be using nicotine."
15 Finds Out has learned that kids may be 'JUULing' right under your nose.
According to a 2017 Indiana Youth Survey, about 13 percent of middle and high school students in Allen County admitted to using electronic cigarettes at least once. The rising popularity of JUUL and other electronic cigarettes has prompted school administrators to take action.
"The more we researched we found that it was not just problematic to our school or even our area," said Jeff Kintz, who is the Assistant Principal at Homestead High School. "It is all over the country."
Kintz has a growing collection of e-cigarette devices and accessories. He said about 95 percent of the collection consists of JUUL products, which first came on his radar last winter.
"One of the first times that I discovered the device is when I went into a book bag based upon reasonable suspicion of [a student] having something that they were smoking in the classroom," he said. "The device was still charging in the computer."
Kintz said students are smoking JUUL on school grounds and sometimes even in the classroom.
"They'll hide [the smoke] up their sleeve, or maybe down their shirts and expel it in that manner," said Kintz. "It's problematic from the addictive standpoint because I can tell you that I had more than a handful of students that I caught with them more than once."
As a result, Kintz said the Southwest Allen County School district has stiffened penalties for students caught with JUUL or any other e-cigarettes. Faculty and staff members are regularly trained on the latest devices and how to spot them. He said many parents are not aware the device even exists.
"Maybe they aren't as savvy in paying attention to what their son or daughter is doing at home behind closed doors," he said. "Or maybe they don't go through their book bag or their belongings. They might feel as if they don't have that right when they have every right to do so. And should be."
Administrators at Fort Wayne Community, Northwest Allen, and East Allen, all say they are aware of JUUL, but have not seen a significant increase in student use.
JUUL maintains the product is intended for current adult smokers only. Victoria Davis, a Spokesperson for JUUL released this statement:
"Cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death worldwide. In the United States alone, more than 480,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses. JUUL is intended for current adult smokers only. We cannot be more emphatic on this point: no minor or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL. Our packaging includes a prominent nicotine label and clearly states for adult smokers.
We are working closely with Attorney General Tom Miller and the group of tobacco control experts and public health officials he has assembled to help advise us on efforts to keep JUUL out of the hands of young people. We are investing $30 million over the next three years dedicated to independent research, youth and parent education and community engagement efforts."
Cripe said there is a misconception that JUUL products are safer than regular cigarettes. She wants teens and parents to know that is just not the case.
"I think what they need to know is it's just as dangerous," she said. "This is going to get you addicted just like a cigarette would. Then you are turning over your money and your health to the tobacco companies."