VENICE, Fla. (FOX 13) - Parents of Sarasota County students got a crash course on vaping Tuesday.
School and health officials hosted an informational session at the Venice Performing Arts Center, where parents and concerned community members learned about the basics of e-cigarettes.
"It is shocking, I am in total shock," said Pat Morgerson, a parent of a seventh grader.
According to school officials, the number of teens using e-cigarettes has increased dramatically. But as soon as officials think they know what to look for, the devices change in design, making it difficult to spot them.
"They're small, they're sleek, they look like flash drives, some of them," said Erin Rice, the assistant principal of Venice Middle School.
Although clever marketing makes e-cigarettes seem like a healthier alternative to traditional smoking, health experts said it's just as bad. Vaping produces nicotine, and according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the devices also produce toxic chemicals like formaldehyde.
"All the work that's been done on tobacco prevention over the past 20 years is being reversed by the vaping epidemic that faces our youth," said Jennifer Sadonis, with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County.
In Pinellas County, officials said the number of teens who are vaping has doubled from 2016 to 2018, reaching 19.8 percent.
The state average of teens using e-cigarettes stands at 15.7 percent.
The colorful branding, fun flavors, and modern designs have proven to be successful in drawing in young people, making e-cigarettes a billion dollar industry. That's why local health and school officials hope parents start cracking down and preventing their children from developing what could turn into an addiction.