Gas stations, convenience stores and vape shops - vaping products that contain nicotine are being sold at all of them.
But in Florida, you have to be at least 18 to buy these vaping products. State lawmakers are considering raising the age limit to 21 to match federal law.
But when the NBC 6 Investigators sent young-looking staffers to stores selling them, we found some didn’t verify their age.
Our staffers were armed with hidden cameras and purchased products displaying nicotine warnings in their packaging.
We chose gas stations, vape shops and convenience stores located near schools. Some of them checked for identification but three gas stations did not.
“They actually said to me, ‘Let me know if you like the flavors,’ sort of jokingly,” a staffer said referring to her experience at one of those gas stations.
Our investigation also revealed there is no state agency conducting undercover checks or inspections to make sure these products are not sold to minors.
"How hard is for you to get a vape?"
NBC 6 Investigators sat down with four Broward County high-school students to talk about vaping and their access to it.
When asked how hard it is to get a vape, they collectively responded “Not that hard.”
“There’s almost always a place that sells them and they don’t really check for age that much either. If you look like you’re the age, they’ll (the stores) give it to you,” said Michaela who is 15-years-old.
All of them said they’ve seen someone vaping in class.
The Broward County school district told us it has disciplined nearly 500 students for having a vaping device.
These teens tell us they’ve seen classmates concealing them in hoodies and bookbags.
“They'll just look like they’re reaching for something and go like this or they’ll just sit on their hands and go, like that,” Alexis, 17, said while showing us how classmates hide their vaping devices inside their shirts or sleeves.
“When they blow it out, they just like fan it away,” Michaela said adding “before the teacher can turn around and see it.”
Vaping in Our Schools
The latest survey done by the Florida Health Department found more than 22 percent of students in Broward County admitted trying vaping – compared to only 6.5 percent who say they’ve tried smoking regular cigarettes.
A different statewide survey conducted by the Florida Department of Children and Families and other agencies found, after alcohol, middle school and high school students reported vaping nicotine as the most commonly used drug.
“I don’t think there’s any school, community or neighborhood that’s immune to this,” said Emilia Vilaire-Monchery, a prevention specialist with the United Way in Broward County. "We grew up in a generation where people were smoking cigarettes, that was hard to quit so now, you are looking at something much more potent."
Alexis, who admitted vaping in the past, said quitting was “really, really hard.”
“It feels like you’re in a constant migraine, and just constant, like, you’re very jumpy and very like, emotional,” Alexis said.
The other students said they haven’t vaped but they know a lot of other kids who have done it too.
“It’s just a way to calm down and stress-relieving,” Michaela said when asked about the perception of vaping among teens.
“That it’s a cool thing to do even though they see the deaths on TV,” Sebastian,18, said. “They’ll risk it.”
“It’s still not me and it won’t happen to me,” Jaleyna, 15, added.
Emilia said the nicotine withdrawal symptoms make quitting more difficult.
“The content of the nicotine, the potency that they are receiving is much stronger than a regular combustible cigarette,” she said.
Enforcing Vaping Sales
On the federal level, the FDA has sent warning letters and penalized dozens of businesses in Miami-Dade and Broward for selling vaping products to minors or failing to verify the age of the buyer.
We reached out to multiple state agencies to check if they were doing similar enforcement but we couldn’t find any. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation or DBPR, which monitors the sale of alcohol and tobacco in our state, told us they don’t do the same for vaping products.
“There is no express authority for any state agency to go in and be inspecting whether they are selling to minors,” said State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. “That doesn’t exist right now.”
She is co-sponsoring a bill that would give DBPR the authority to do that. It would also raise the minimum age to buy nicotine in the state from 18 to 21 to match federal law.
The bill, which would ban the sale of fruit or chocolate-flavored vaping products, is making its way through the Florida legislature.
Students agree more needs to be done to prevent teens from getting vapes.
“I feel like checking ID should be taken more seriously instead of just a quick glance,” Michaela said.
Alexis also has a message for other teens who are vaping or thinking about doing it.
“It destroys you. It literally, it will destroy you,” she said.