WOOSTER, Ohio-- Specialists at the OneEighty Center in Wooster say they believe vaping may be creating a whole new generation of youth addicted to nicotine.
"Vaping is on the rise. It's been called a runaway train, a public health disaster, an addiction crisis and an epidemic," said Catherine Gabe, a coalition prevention specialist with the center.
"About 20 percent of the kids in 12th grade are vaping so one out of every five high schoolers, one out of twenty middle schoolers. And it's been declared an epidemic by the Food and Drug Administration," she added.
The industry is booming.
Gabe said vaping has seen a 900 percent increase between 2000 and 2015, and a nearly 80 percent increase between 2017 and 2018 alone. Since many of the products contain nicotine, the FDA has some regulation, including restricting the legal age at which someone can buy vaping products.
Most schools also have policies forbidding the practice on campus, but that has not done much to deter vaping among teens.
Kyle Moreno co-owns a vape shop in Wooster called Vapor Mix. He said even before there was regulation, his family-owned business decided not to sell to anyone under the age of 18.
He said the industry was started to help give adults an alternative to cigarettes and to break them from their own addiction to nicotine.
"It's a lot of people are choosing to get off of tobacco and we have countless studies on how harmful that is for you. It's the number one lead of preventable death in America right now," Moreno said.
"Obviously, there's still a lot of kids that are trying it. That's obviously not a great thing, but a lot of that is kind of outside the industry's control alone," Moreno said.
Gabe has what she calls a "naughty box," a collection of vaping pipes and products that has been confiscated at local schools. She said the products are becoming more stealthy and the flavors are appealing to teenagers.
"Girls are hiding it in their bras. Boys in their belt buckles. They are hiding it up their sleeves. They are hiding it in their hoodies so they can keep it out of sight from people in the classroom," Gabe said.
Moreno said he still believes the industry is not intentionally targeting youth. But addiction experts said they believe the better informed parents are, the easier it will be to combat what has been described as a public health disaster.
The OneEighty Center invited parents to an information session Thursday, which they expected to be packed.
"The products are changing. They are sleek, they are stealthy, they are discreet for kids to use so you need to educate yourself about what do they look like and get as much information as you can."
"Talk to your kids. Begin the conversation early. Short conversations are better. Listen, don't lecture,. Look for help if you need help because these kids are going to be addicted to nicotine
and we are talking nicotine cessation, not smoking cessation," Gabe said.