Authorities are warning parents and teachers to be on the lookout for drugs that don’t always look like drugs, especially as a new school year gets underway.
For example, there are vapes disguised as school supplies — highlighters in particular.
Some highlighter vapes are even available in kid-friendly flavors such as mango, strawberry banana and blueberry ice.
Other vapes can look like USB drives, ballpoint pens and even phones, according to reports.
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Stefan Bjes, a patrol sergeant who has served with a police department in the Chicago suburbs for over 19 years, and previously served as a school resource officer, told Fox News Digital that these vapes are available at various stores and smoke shops across the country.
“Disposable vapes in kid-enticing flavors are illegal in the United States, yet are still widely available and criminally trafficked in stores nationwide,” he said.
In addition to the known risks of vaping — including nicotine addiction, lung damage, gum disease and oral cancers — Bjes warned that illegal vapes may pose other hidden dangers.
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“Illegal, flavored, disposable vapes are driving the youth vaping epidemic,” he said.
“Illegal, flavored, disposable vapes are driving the youth vaping epidemic.”
“They are pouring in from China and are completely unregulated,” he also said.
“Since they are unregulated, they could contain dangerous substances that can cause long-term damage to users.”
“There is no way of knowing their nicotine content or what else may be in them,” the officer added. “We know the Chinese manufacturers of these illegal disposable vapes are also making and trafficking fentanyl to the United States.”
He urged parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of these disposable, flavored vapes — and also called for government regulation.
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“The FDA also needs to do its part by stepping up enforcement and coordination with state and local authorities to ensure they have the support and clarity they need to get these dangerous illegal disposable vapes off the shelves immediately,” Bjes said.
In a statement to Fox News Digital, an FDA spokesperson said the agency is “committed to keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of our nation’s youth, and we will continue to hold companies accountable for illegally selling these products, particularly those that shamelessly target youth.”
To date, the FDA has authorized 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products and devices, which are the only e-cigarette products that currently may be sold lawfully in the U.S.
“The distribution or sale of unlawfully marketed products is subject to compliance and enforcement action,” the agency also said.
As of July 28, 2023, the FDA has issued nearly 600 warning letters to firms for manufacturing, selling and/or distributing unauthorized tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, according to its statement.
This includes warning letters issued late last year to firms marketing illegal e-cigarette products packaged to look like toys, food or cartoon characters that are likely to promote use by youth, the agency stated.
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“After receiving a warning letter, a majority of companies correct the stated violations,” the spokesperson said. However, failure to promptly correct the violations can result in additional FDA actions such as injunction, seizure and/or civil money penalties.
A recent study published in BMJ Journals found that disposable e-cigarettes are “bigger, stronger and cheaper,” with higher amounts of “e-liquid” and nicotine levels.
“Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, linked to the initiation and further use of combustible tobacco products, making it difficult to reduce or quit using these products,” the BMJ Journal stated.
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“Furthermore, nicotine use poses serious health risks, particularly among youth users, as it can harm brain development [and] damage blood vessels … its use has been linked to increased feelings of depression and anxiety,” the study authors also wrote.
“There is no way of knowing their nicotine content or what else may be in them.”
The sales of e-cigarettes spiked by almost 50% between 2020 and 2022, according to a CDC study from June.
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“Parents everywhere should remain diligent to ensure their children aren’t using these dangerous illegal vapes and that their local authorities are taking action to get them off store shelves,” Bjes said.