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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — At the Iron Lung in Bloomfield they sell Juuls, but manager Shane Ierardi says not to teenagers.

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “You don’t sell that to kids.”
Ierardi: “No sir.”
Sheehan: “You have to be 18 to enter the store?”
Ierardi: “That’s correct.”

The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down, and stores like the Iron Lung cannot sell to underage buyers, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not readily available online and elsewhere, or that the damage hasn’t already been done.

Typical of the region is Hempfield Area High School where principal, Kathy Charlton, estimates that at least two-thirds of the student body has tried Juuls, and more than half own them.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

“This one is so easy to hide in a classroom,” said Charlton. “Students sitting at a desk, they have their hand up to their mouth, they inhale from the vape, a teacher’s never going to see that.”

Those who get caught have their Juuls confiscated and are sentenced to a three-day, in-school suspension, but the consequences can be much worse.

“Now, all of a sudden, we’ve got huge numbers of nicotine-addicted young people,” said Dr. Brian Primack, a University of Pittsburgh professor.

Dr. Primack says the vaping industry has created a whole new generation of unsuspecting teenage addicts, who thought they were imbibing in harmless flavored vapors, but were really getting hooked on nicotine.

“Taking it in with blueberry flavoring, with mango flavoring, with cotton-candy flavoring, and so they do not realize to what extent it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Dr. Primack said.

Because Juuls are largely under researched and unregulated, it’s unclear just how much nicotine teens are taking in, but indications are they’re becoming addicted very quickly.

“Some of the kids that we have caught using have told us they have to use because they are addicted,” Charlton said.

It’s leaving alarmed parents casting about for help.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

“They catch kids at home and approach the kids, and the kids are telling them, ‘oh, I’m addicted to nicotine.’ So now, the parent has to deal with the fact that their child, who they didn’t even realize was using nicotine, is now suddenly addicted and they have to deal with that,” Charlton said.

At Iron Lung, Ierardi has his own advice to young people dealing with stress.

“I recommend water. They need to hydrate. Go to the gym, that’s what I recommend,” he says.

Unfortunately, there are very few options for parents to get help when they find that their kids have become addicted to nicotine. This has the FDA and school districts trying to find answers and develop programs.

The number of students being sent to disciplinary smoke-free Saturday sessions has triple this year and the crisis is growing.