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Digging Deeper: Parents put to the test to find vaping devices hidden in plain sight

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A dangerous epidemic is sweeping through Wisconsin high schools.

According to the American Heart Association, in 2018, e-cigarette use nearly doubled among high school students.

Their peers say they're often doing it in school, undetected.

27 News partnered with AHA to put Madison parents to the test to see if they could find the hidden vape devices.

The devices are disguised as pens, makeup compacts, watches, sweatshirts, USB drives, highlighters, even backpacks and they can be easily purchased online.

But what's inside the undercover vaping devices is dangerous and extremely addictive.

Dr. Vivek Balasubramaniam is a pediatric pulmonologist with UW Health. He says, "Each pod of one of the common devices, with the Juul or other products, contain enough nicotine in them that's equivalent to about a pack or a pack and a half of cigarettes."

It's not hard for your child to hide a vaping device in plain sight. Would you know what to look for?

We went inside Madison Memorial High School and planted 10 vaping devices around a classroom filled with student volunteers. We then asked parents to try to spot them, with a one-minute time limit.

Ann Marie Bell was our first volunteer. She has four kids, three of them are teenagers.

She wasn't able to find any of the devices. "I didn't know this and I was fooled, so are the kids even aware that their friends might have it on them?"

Our second parent is Lisa Thomas Prince, mother of two. She spotted three vaping devices.

"I'm glad to know a little more and happy to make sure other parents know what is out there and what we're up against, as far as helping our kids make good decisions, which is hard enough as it is."

Finally, Memorial High School's assistant principal, Ben Radloff. He found two of them.

"I know what I was looking for, but I didn't find it. So, that tells you another thing," he says.

Our volunteers overlooked most of the vaping devices, but gained an eye opening experience.

Lisa says, "It's hard for kids not to be lured into things when they're making it so easy."

Ann Marie agrees, "If companies are going to such great lengths to hide these things then obviously this is a problem we need to talk about."

27 News dug deeper into the rates of kids using vaping devices.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services most recent survey in 2018 showed current e-cigarette use among Wisconsin high school students increased 154% between 2014 and 2018. 1 in 5 high schoolers report they vape.

Over that same time period, the number of middle schoolers using them went up 272%. 1 in 9 middle schoolers report they've tried e-cigarettes.

Doctors say if you think your child may be vaping, you need to treat it as an addiction.

Get them medical help, because they'll need counseling and medication to help them quit.

DHS has resources for parents here.

Amber Noggle

Anchor, 27 News at 5, 6 and 10

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