Teens Are Disguising Vapes in Their Clothes: Here’s What Parents Need to Know
Companies—and teens—have devised sneaky ways to hide e-cigarettes in clothing.
Teenagers used to shake in their Doc Marten boots if their parents smelled smoke on them. But with the rise of e-cigarettes, which are popular with teens, it has become much more difficult for parents to uncover whether or not their kids are consuming nicotine or cannabis products. Companies are now making it even easier for kids to hide their habit. Vape fashions that disguise devices in hoodies and watches are available for sale online, allowing teens to more discreetly vape in public places—including school.
A quick Google search shows vape hoodies for sale on Amazon by Vaprwear, a company that specifically makes clothing and accessories with hidden vapes. Its tagline notes that it's "all about making you look great, and simplifying your vaping experience." The sweatshirts have hidden pockets for a vape that connects to a tube-like "drawstring" mouthpiece for under-the-radar use. The company also sells a vaping backpack: It's similar to a hiking pack with a hydration system, except in this model, the pipeline for water attaches to a vape.
Disturbingly, kids can also find YouTube videos showing how to make their own DIY vape sweatshirts and backpacks out of materials they could find at a hardware store.
Uwell vaping watches are also easy to buy online and are not authorized by the FDA. Upon a cursory glance, they look like a simple smartwatch or Fitbit but the device detaches from the wriststrap as a small pod-like vape. It's also commonly known among some teens that since many vapes (including popular JUULs) can plug into a computer's USB port, they look confusingly similar to a flash drive to the unaware parent or teacher.
A CNN and California Healthline investigation shows that some of these websites only require a simplistic one-click age-verification process to purchase vape products. E-cigarettes are only legal for customers that are 18 years and older (but a law passed in December 2019 will raise the legal age to 21 next year). However, these new fashions seem to be specifically made to lure in a younger clientele (just look at the ads). And it's working: a new study from the Centers for Disease Control showed that more than a quarter of American high schoolers have vaped in the past 30 days.
While at first e-cigs may have seemed like a less harmful alternative to tobacco, it has become clear that they are anything but safe. There have been 11 confirmed deaths in recent months caused by these devices—many linked with vaping tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis—and more than 500 cases of related lung diseases being tracked around the country. President Trump proposed a ban on flavored e-cigs in an attempt to curb underage interest, the states of Michigan and New York have also taken action in this direction, and a bipartisan bill in Congress is proposing the same. Authorities have noted that in many of the cases of lung diseases, patients reported using off-brand or potentially black market vape products. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, where 70 cases of vape-related lung diseases have occurred, issued a ban specifically on counterfeit vaping products to try to curb youth access.
What to Do
So how can parents and schools help kids despite these crafty clothing options? Some schools are using vape detectors that operate like a smoke detector, some are even able to detect THC. Others have banned flash drives since vapes can camouflage in a computer's USB port.
Parents can educate themselves on what vaping devices look like through Stanford University's Tobacco Prevention Toolkit. Currently, the CDC advises that e-cigarette users stop vaping during its investigation, so parents can also talk to their kids about the dangers of vaping as they wait for federal regulators to crack down on vape fashion companies aiming to tempt their kids with flashy products.