By Anna Maria Barry-Jester • Kaiser Health News

In yet another twist for worried parents: Meet the vaping hoodie. This high school fashion mainstay — defined by a hood with drawstrings — is now available as a vaping device, ready to deliver a puff of nicotine, or marijuana, anywhere, anytime, including in the classroom.

It marks an addition to the fleet of discreet — some would say camouflaged — vaping devices that have teachers and parents struggling to monitor the usage of a product that has surged in popularity among high school-aged kids in the past two years, despite laws in most states that allow sales only to people 18 and up. In California, it’s 21.

A computer mouse. A phone case. Backpacks. USB jump drives. The vaping kit options colorfully advertised online are fashionable and many.

Juul, the San Francisco-based company that dominates the e-cigarette trade, and other manufacturers publicly tout their devices as tools for adults looking to get a nicotine fix without the toxins associated with burning tobacco. But the crowded market of devices and accessories that has sprung up around vaping is filled with products that seem tailored to teenagers who want to keep their use secret — and according to parents and teachers, are all but impossible to keep out of kids’ hands.

Preliminary federal data released this month shows more than one-quarter of the nation’s high schoolers had reported vaping in the previous 30 days, up from 11.7 % in 2017. As the teen vaping scene has exploded, adults have had a hard time keeping up. In a 2018 survey, the Truth Initiative, an anti-tobacco advocacy group, surveyed middle and high school teachers on vaping and found that fewer than half recognized a photo of a Juul, the most commonly used device. A palm-size stick that charges via USB, it’s easily mistaken for a flash drive to the uninitiated.

Sven-Eric Jordt has seen the challenge in his kid’s school. By day, Jordt is an associate professor at Duke University, studying the health effects of inhaling various chemicals. By night, he educates his children on the potential risks of vaping.

One of his daughters told him about the “Apple-like” watch made by Uwell that is quickly becoming one of the more popular devices at her high school. With a touch of the finger, the face offers the time. But when removed from the wrist band, it is a vaping device. California Healthline was able to purchase it online for $34.95. “The teachers have learned to recognize Juul,” Jordt said, “but this just looks like a watch.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to investigate a spurt of vaping-related lung illnesses, mostly affecting young people. Authorities have reported 380 cases of suspected cases nationwide, including 70 in California. Seven of the cases have resulted in death.

Two states — Michigan and New York — have moved to ban sales of most flavored e-cigarette products, which are popular among young people. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week that his administration would boost enforcement efforts against illicit and counterfeit vaping products and fund a $20 million public service campaign highlighting the dangers of vaping.

While research continues into the long-term prospects of e-cigarettes as a tool to help people quit smoking, experts say there is clear evidence that teens should not vape. Nicotine can cause changes in the developing brain that make lifelong addiction more likely. The liquids in vaping devices contain a range of chemicals that can harm the lungs.

Some schools have banned flash drives in an effort to keep vaping devices off campuses. But new stealth devices offer ways around these prohibitions.

In a statement, Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, one of the industry’s largest trade groups, blamed a few bad actors and illegal sales to ineligible customers, saying that the group “does not approve of youth use of any nicotine products, including these accessories.”

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