According to the La Crosse County Health Department, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used nicotine product by youth. A relatively new product is making it easier for teens to hide and potentially use them on school grounds.
The "Juul" is a small, finger-sized device that to the untrained eye, looks like a USB flash drive. Though it's marketed as an "alternative for adult smokers" critics say it's clearly targeting teens with it's discreet design and flavor varieties.
"There's a lot of messages out there that it's not as dangerous," Ryan Vinzant, a health and physical education teacher at La Crescent High School said.
"There are 10 cancer causing agents that we are aware of in that vapor and some of those same cancer causing agents that we find in traditional tobacco," La Crosse County Health Educator Judi Zabel said.
One small compartment, or "pod", contains a level of nicotine comparable to a full pack of cigarettes, wrapped up in an inconspicuous package.
"These things fall out of their back packs and on to the floor," Zabel said. "One student told us that the teacher handed it back to them not recognizing that this was a tobacco device."
Unlike some other devices, the Juul produces a minimal cloud with a potent dose of nicotine which makes it easier for some students to use on school grounds.
"We know from a focus group that was conducted that youth are smoking these in classes," Zabel said. "They're inhaling or exhaling down their shirts."
Just one search of Juul on YouTube reveals 140,000 results of everything from reviews, to how-to videos and even some showing where and how to hide them.
"The thing is that kids are really good at sneaking things around so you don't really hear too much about it," Vinzant said.
Admittedly, both Zabel and Vinzant say teens who want to smoke will find some way to do so. The worry is that products like the Juul could increase nicotine addiction among those who were only curious or on the fence.
Most appealing can be the the different options of flavoring. Some 7000 different flavors are available for various electronic nicotine devices. Zabel said 88% of teens say they wouldn't bother to try e-cigarettes at all without that variety. Juul themselves have taken some steps, saying that they actively try to remove content on social media platforms showing teens using the devices and began working with schools.
La Crosse County Health said education, particularly among parents, is key to curbing the popularity of these products.
Juul, through spokesperson Casey Harper, has released a statement to News 19 detailing more of their steps taken to curb use among teens:
"JUUL Labs’ mission is to eliminate cigarette smoking by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to 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, community leaders and our business partners. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate and engage with parents and educators and encourage them to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of our initiatives include: