(WFSB) -- As kids head back to school, health and education advocates are raising concerns that kids could be returning to an environment that includes the greater use of e-cigarettes.

Officials say youth e-cigarette use more than doubled from 2017 to 2019, leading the U.S. surgeon general to declare it an “epidemic.”

“Before the shutdown last year, it was already a huge problem,” said Laurie Rubiner, from the campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

She said 3.6 million kids are addicted to e-cigarettes, including about 1 in 5 high school students.

“Then, all the kids went home. And, like a lot of problems, we don’t know what happened. Now they are coming back into the schools and they bring back with them the peer pressure,” Rubiner said.

Therefore, she said parents need to know what they’re looking for.

“Sometimes parents don’t even know what they look like,” she said.

She went on to explain “It doesn’t smell like a normal cigarette. But if you smell things like a faint sweet smell like a whiff of strawberry or mango.”

Health officials say the addiction can change your child’s behavior, so look out for any changes in their mood, increased irritability, and poor sleeping habits.

“It contains nicotine, and one pod is equivalent to 20 cigarettes or one pack of cigarettes, the amount of nicotine,” said Linda Mendonca, of the National Association of School Nurses.

Studies have also shown that kids who vape then turn to cigarettes down the road.

“This is not safe from a health perspective, the nicotine and the impacts it can have the developing brain. Memory loss, learning disabilities, those kinds of things,” Mendonca added.

If parents find out their child is vaping, experts say to not lecture them. They said it’s more important to engage and have a conversation about staying healthy and not wanting to be addicted to a drug of any kind.

Also, let them know how you can help.

Copyright 2021 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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