OGDDEN, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - They sometimes look like toys or just ball point pens, but they're actually electronic cigarettes and their use among kids in the state of Utah is on the rise.
"It is harmful, especially to youth's development of their brain to use a product like nicotine," Kristi Jones of the Weber-Morgan Health Department said.
It's illegal for minors under the age of 19 to purchase these devices but unlike regular tobacco, there's no licensing and no enforcement. E-cigarette use has tripled among high school and middle school students in Utah over the last 2 years. In Weber and Morgan counties, use by kids is up 500 percent.
"We've had them clear down into the younger grades, 2nd and 3rd grades and all the way up," Art Hansen, the Weber School District Director of Student Services told ABC 4 Utah. "It's something that's hard to detect for educators so we're seeing it. We've had kids turned in who were smoking it on buses, of course in the bathrooms, even in the hallways. We had a student last year that was caught smoking in the classroom."
Organizers of Wednesday night's meeting at odyssey elementary school sought want to close the loopholes in the cigarette law by requiring a license to sell the devices and their liquid and also crack down on what they say is marketing to children.
"Everybody thinks that it's safe, clean and green and that's why youth, they are the most vulnerable...are being pulled and sucked into this trick," Hannen Ibrannhim of the Weber-Morgan Tobacco Free Coalition said.
State Representative Paul Ray (R - Clearfield) claims the manufacturers of e-cigarettes are marketing their products to children.
"If you look at the tobacco industry, their current market is dying," Ray said. "They're either quitting or they're physically dying from the use of tobacco. In order to stay in business, you've got to addict another generation and this is a great way to do it. Cap'n Crunch, cotton candy flavored with no smoke, no residue. Parents can't even tell they've used it. It's a great vehicle to addict the youth."
As for the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes...nobody knows. The devices are so new that no long-term studies have been done on the effects of e-cigarettes or their vapor.