BLAIRSTOWN — Three students fell ill and were taken to Newton Medical Center after inhaling substances from vape pens — a demonstration of what local school officials and the U.S. Surgeon General alike warn is a spiraling problem.

Thursday morning, a school administrator called Blairstown Police to say several students were felling sick, the New Jersey Herald reports, citing Capt. Scott Johnsen.

According to the report, four JUUL vape pens — a popular brand that looks similar to a flash drive — were confiscated and the substances inside are being tested. The report also cited North Warren Superintendent Sarah Bilotti saying the students seemed to exhibit symptoms similar to those from inhaling too much nicotine, seemingly unaccustomed to the drug's effects.

JUUL, in its marketing materials, describes itself as a "satisfying alternative to cigarettes" that was designed with smokers in mind. It also says it takes several steps to deter underage use. In New Jersey, sale or distribution of an electronic smoking device to anyone under the age of 21 is prohibited.

In a letter to the school community, dean of students Tina Ritchie described e-cigarette use as a "burgeoning problem," reminding parents and students that vape pens and similar devices are not allowed on school grounds.

"We are very concerned about the safety of our students and do not want these devices in our school or in the hands of our children," she wrote.

The school is in the process of installing vape detectors in bathrooms, and has locked some to monitor them more closely, she said.

"Our goal is to prevent vape use within the building," Ritchie said. She urged parents to talk to their children about e-cigarette use and said upcoming presentations will address the same.

In a statement earlier this month, U.S. Surgeon General Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams warned e-cigarette use among minors "has skyrocketed in the past year at a rate of epidemic proportions."

Data from the CDC and the FDA's National Youth Tobacco Survey show the percentage of high school-age children reporting past 30-day use of e-cigarettes rose by more than 75 percent between 2017 and 2018, Adams said. Use among middle school-age children increased nearly 50 percent.

"In the data sets we use, we have never seen use of any substance by America’s young people rise as rapidly as e-cigarette use is rising,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in the same announcement. “Combustible cigarettes remain the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and providing an effective off-ramp for adults who want to quit using them is a public health priority. But we cannot allow e-cigarettes to become an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for younger Americans. HHS has been and will continue developing a comprehensive, balanced policy approach to this challenge."

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