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Spike in e-cig use among Knox County teens, FDA cracking down nationwide

The Metro Drug Coalition reports almost 15 percent of Knox County high schoolers use e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes and Juuls are now so popular with teenagers nationwide, the FDA is stepping in to cut down on underage usage.

Some teens said using these devices is a "cool" way to smoke without tobacco.

"E-cigarettes are probably - probably - less harmful than regular cigarettes," said State Sen. Richard Briggs. "But they are a pathway to addiction to cigarettes. They still have nicotine, it's an addicting substance."

The FDA announced Thursday a crack down on e-cigarettes, working to make kid-friendly flavors harder to come by so the taste isn't good.

The goal is to cut back on teen use, as many worry these devices are serving as gateway drugs to tobacco.

"It's one of the concerns that we have of multiple drugs that young people use and a lot of time that follows them in to adulthood," said State Representative Bill Dunn.

The Metro Drug Coalition reports almost 15 percent of Knox County high schoolers use e-cigarettes. That's higher than the average tobacco usage, and it's unclear if there are even more unreported kids who Juul.

"[With Juuls] you don't have the vapor that you have with other devices, so they're actually much easier to conceal," said Karen Pershing, Executive Director of the Metro Drug Coalition.

Juuls, the marketed "alternative to smoking," look like flash drives. They may not produce excessive vapor like traditional e-cigarettes, but they do contain nicotine.

To stop what the FDA is calling a vaping epidemic, Rep. Dunn pushed a bill last state legislative session that would treat e-cigs like cigarettes.

"It would mirror a law of our smoking laws that wherever you're prohibited to smoke you'd also be prohibited to vape," said Dunn.

It got stuck in committee last session, but they'll try again.

Lawmakers said education to prevent e-cigarette and Juul use is just as important as making the devices harder to get.

"We need to look at well-rounded solutions and not just pinpointing one thing," said State Representative-Elect Gloria Johnson. "We need to talk about prevention early on and you know education is a huge part of all of this."

The FDA said protecting America's youth is one of its highest priorities, especially now in regards to e-cigarette usage.

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