This sleek device plugged into your child’s laptop might be packed with nicotine

See the latest device that helps students sneak e-cigarettes into schools

The design of the this tiny e-cigarette doesn't turn heads when students carry it with all of their other school essentials.
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The design of the this tiny e-cigarette doesn't turn heads when students carry it with all of their other school essentials.

Plugged into a computer or laptop to charge, the device looks like a long USB flash drive.

But the sleek, pocket-sized object is actually an electronic cigarette called a JUUL.

The device and others like it have become popular among some underage students in the metropolitan area for just that inconspicuous look — they’re harder for teachers, parents and friends to detect.

The company that makes the JUUL says each of its cartridges contains as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes, or 200 puffs. YouTube videos show how to refill them, hide them from parents and “hit your juul at school without getting caught.”

At a recent Shawnee Mission East back-to-school event, Principal John McKinney pulled up a slide to show parents the device many had never heard of. The high school had confiscated JUUL devices since the first day of school, and McKinney warned parents to be on the lookout.

Adult smokers have flocked to e-cigarettes and vaporizers because they have been marketed as an alternative to smoking that is better for the environment, even as health experts and scientists debate whether the devices are safer and less addictive than traditional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes have been unregulated, though new regulations are in the works to recognize vaporizers as a tobacco product.

The FDA this summer delayed several compliance deadlines to 2022, however. And in the meantime, a new class of products has exploded in recent years — a team from Pax Labs, which put the JUUL on the market in 2015, told Wired magazine that it was “trying to make the iPhone of e-cigs.”

JUUL devices, and other popular brands such as MyJet and Von Erl, are easily chargeable through the USB port on a computer, and mimic the size and feel of a cigarette.

JUUL cartridges, filled with juice containing nicotine salt, are heated through a wick and nichrome coil system in the device.

Flavors include mango, cool mint, fruit medley and creme brulee. As with all electronic cigarettes, the vapor that smokers exhale doesn’t smell like tobacco.

Student journalists at Shawnee Mission East examined a rise in JUUL use at school last spring in The Harbinger, the school newspaper. According to a school survey cited in the article, at least 200 students reported having used a JUUL, including at school.

Shawnee Mission district officials declined to comment about the issue.

Katy Bergen: 816-234-4120, @KatyBergen