As the state and federal government investigate reports of severe lung issues related to vaping, and statistics point to a sizable increase in e-cigarette use among minors, anti-smoking organizations are urging adults to step up and prevent even more youth from getting hooked on nicotine.

"We're at risk of losing a new generation to nicotine addiction in New Jersey and nationwide," said John Schachter, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids communications director. "We urge folks to get more information, educate yourself on the problem and the solution."

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive. E-cigarettes can contain harmful substances besides nicotine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2018 alone, e-cigarette use among high school students jumped by 78%, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. In New Jersey, e-cigarette use among high school students was 9.6% in 2016, compared to a cigarette usage rate of 4.7%.

"This is a race against time, and every day that goes by, more and more kids are getting addicted," said Meredith Berkman, co-founder of Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes (PAVe).

Berkman said parents "have voices" to empower their children to either get help if they're addicted, or inform other kids of the potential risks associated with vaping.

In New Jersey, individuals must be 21 in order to purchase electronic smoking products.

The groups claim Juul, an e-cigarette that looks like a USB flash drive, is the main cause of a youth e-cigarette "epidemic." Juul's design makes it easy for youth to hide the device in plain sight, the groups said. According to the manufacturer, a single Juul pod contains as much nicotine as 20 regular cigarettes.

"E-cigarettes are sold in over 15,000 flavors, including flavors like gummy bear and cotton candy. It's mind boggling," Schachter said.

Juul does not sell pods flavored like gummy bears or cotton candy, but does offer flavors such as mango, fruit, creme and cucumber. In November, Juul stopped selling these flavors to retail stores; they're now only available online, where Juul has added additional age-verification measures. In-store Juul pod offerings include mint, classic tobacco, Virginia tobacco, and menthol.

"Juul is an alternative that can help the 34 million adults in this country who still smoke," a Juul labs spokesperson told New Jersey 101.5 in an email. "We do not want non-nicotine users to buy Juul products."

On Wednesday, the CDC said it's been notified of more than 150 cases of pulmonary illnesses possibly related to e-cigarette use. The reports came from 16 states, including New Jersey.

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