It can be easy to light up in school these days -- not with cigarettes, but with smoking alternatives that don't leave a tobacco smell and look so innocuous they're sometimes used right under parents' and teachers' noses.
Vaping products like Juul, which is shaped like a USB flash drive, heat liquid nicotine into an inhalable vapor that's sold in fruity or mint flavors. Schools in the suburbs, like those across the country, are reporting students using the products in bathrooms, hallways and even the classroom.
They're trying different approaches to try to stop use of the products, which have no tobacco but still pack an addictive nicotine punch.
Maine Township High School District 207 is asking Des Plaines officials to adopt a new ordinance for students caught vaping or using e-cigarettes. The city council will consider a proposal Monday to allow first-time student offenders to enter an educational program, instead of paying a $25 fine called for under state law.
Park Ridge, where District 207 has two high schools, already has a similar ordinance, school officials said.
"We are trying to get ahead of the problem by educating students that this is not the harmless practice that many of them apparently believe and to help parents understand what to watch for," school spokesman David Beery said. "It's an ongoing challenge for us, as it is for schools nationally."
In Lake Forest High School District 115, a crackdown noticeably reduced vaping, Superintendent Mike Simeck told WGN Channel 9. Students caught vaping get a citation that comes with a fine or other consequences.
A number of suburbs, including Aurora, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Gurnee, Mundelein, Naperville and Vernon Hills, have raised the minimum age to 21 from 18 for using or buying tobacco and vaping products, and a bill before the General Assembly would apply the standard statewide.
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission issued stern warnings to manufacturers, distributors and retailers for selling e-cigarettes with labeling and advertising the agencies consider to be targeted at children.
The products include "One Made Hit Juice Box," which resembles an apple juice box, and others such as "Vape Heads Sour Smurf Sauce," "V'Nilla Cookies & Milk," "Whip'd Strawberry" and "Twirly Pop." According to the FDA, the "Twirly Pop" not only resembles a Unicorn Pop lollipop but is shipped with one, too.
"Companies selling these products have a responsibility to ensure they aren't putting children in harm's way or enticing youth use, and we'll continue to take action against those who sell tobacco products to youth and market products in this egregious fashion," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
The FDA also requested marketing and design documents from Juul to determine whether the company is specifically appealing to young people.
Medical experts still don't know the potential risks of vaping, though most agree it's safer than smoking traditional cigarettes, according to The Associated Press. Still, little is known about the long-term effects.
Northwest Suburban High School District 214 reported vaping isn't a major issue, but students have been caught with the products. Spokeswoman Jennifer Delgado said when that happens, school officials meet with the student and parents to determine the consequences.
"It really depends on the students and their history and whether this has been a pattern," she said.
In some cases, the district will seek help for students by connecting them with counselors or social workers.
"A lot of it depends on the conversation we have with the parents, because the parents can tell us, too, if there's a problem at home," Delgado said.