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A local law enforcement official wants parents to know more about a vaping device that he describes as cheap and “virtually undetectable.”

The device, known by the brand name JUUL, could be mistaken for an oversized flash drive. It’s small enough and thin enough to be concealed in the palm of a hand, and the tiny pod of nicotine-based liquid inside the device is heated to produce only a small amount of vapor that is easily concealed.

Sgt. Chris Hislip, the school resource officer supervisor for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, said the devices are illegal for anyone younger than 18 to purchase or possess and are considered contraband at all Rapid City public schools, where the devices are confiscated when spotted by adults.

Hislip met with members of the media Monday morning to air his concerns and to seek the community’s help in keeping the devices out of the hands of children.

“Our greatest weapon is an informed parent,” Hislip said.

His concerns include the addictive nature of the nicotine dispensed by the devices, the lack of scientific literature about the relatively new devices' health effects on children, and the potential to use the devices to ingest illegal drugs such as marijuana.

Vaping has been growing in popularity among children for several years, according to Hislip, who said all forms of vaping among children are concerning. What makes the JUUL unique is how easy it is to conceal.

Hislip said children as young as middle schoolers obtain the devices mostly on the internet. Websites that sell the devices ask users to swear to their age, but Hislip said children can easily check the appropriate box and then use an electronic form of payment such as a prepaid debit card. On the JUUL website, device kits are priced at $34.99, and Hislip said the nicotine pods can be obtained for as little as $4.

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Once obtained, the size of the device and the lack of a large vapor plume are not the only means of concealing it from adults. Especially among girls, Hislip said, the fruity scent of some of the flavored nicotine pods can be passed off as body spray.

JUUL Labs, which makes the product, markets it as an alternative to smoking. The company acknowledges that “smoking alternatives continue to be the subject of debate,” and “those who don’t currently use nicotine products should not start.”

“We want to be part of the solution to end combustible smoking, not part of a problem to attract youth, never smokers, or former smokers to nicotine products,” says a portion of the company’s website.

Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal.