BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. -- There's a new warning from the U.S. Surgeon General, who's now calling the skyrocketing use of e-cigarettes among teens an "epidemic."
Studies released just this week show an alarming spike of more than 75 percent in the past year, with a third of high school students and more than half of middle school kids admitting they’ve vaped.
The surgeon general said the same tactics used to turn around the public perception of cigarette use need to be ramped up to get kids to quit vaping.
"If they understand it can affect their ability to learn, to pay attention, and that it can prime them for potential addiction in the future, then hopefully they’ll stop seeing these things as cool," said Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General.
Researchers have found a single pod of popular vape brand JUUL contains as much nicotine as an entire 20-pack of regular cigarettes.
Metro schools are finding e-cigarettes a harmful distraction in the classroom. That’s pushing the Blue Springs School District to take extreme measures in hopes of stopping the vaping trend in its tracks.
They disguise easily as an ink pen or computer flash drive, but are actually electronic cigarettes.
"I wasn’t even aware of what it was until we were doing a routine check of the kids phones and found out there was a mention of a pen. I asked, ‘What’s this pen?’ which was Pandora’s box," parent Jen Schinderling said.
Schinderling said she and her husband are strict parents and had no idea three of their four kids had been experimenting with vaping.
"They were purchasing it at school. Five dollars for a pod refill," Schinderling said.
She admits she was in the dark about just how bad the tiny devices can be.
"It's presented to kids as though it’s a fun, flavorful, cool way of smoking without getting caught. But it has ramifications. It has health issues," she said.
The Blue Springs School District said they hear the same from parents and students regularly, about not knowing the risks.
Just since classes started in August, more than 40 kids have gotten in trouble for vaping in school, and dozens of vape devices have been confiscated.
"It’s much like any other dangerous products that can be brought in. We try to keep it out of the schools. But we need a lot of parents’ help too on this," said Tom Phillips, Blue Springs School District executive director of public safety.
The district now sends kids caught vaping through its student-run youth court program and to classes about its dangers.
Starting in January, students caught with e-cigarettes on campus will face an automatic 10-day suspension. It’s a penalty on-par with bullying.
"We had to take a stand somewhere and make a statement that this is not only a danger to that student, but it’s a danger to those around them, too. And so we’re trying to make our district as safe as it can. And it interferes with the educational process, and that’s what we’re here for is to educate children," Phillips said.
Schinderling thinks it's a step in the right direction and hopes the threat of strict punishment will make a difference.
"They look at it as a way of kind of testing the waters. It’s not doing drugs. It’s not smoking cigarettes. But they don’t realize how bad it is for them, how bad it is period. So I think that this would be a good deterrent," she said.
The district is also looking to beef up staff training on how to spot e-cigarette and their dangers. It's also considering more education for students on vaping, starting through the elementary school DARE program, all the way through middle and high school health classes.