CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to JUUL Labs, the manufacturer of e-cigarettes, about its marketing practices on Monday, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a multi-million dollar initiative to address those practices and e-cigarette use among children.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is joining forces with Bloomberg Philanthropies for the $160 million three-year initiative that officials are calling necessary. The goal of the initiative called “Protect Kids: Fight Flavored E-Cigarettes” is to ban the flavored e-cigs.

Vince Willmore, Vice President of Communications with Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids told MetroNews that vaping among youth is an epidemic and is threatening decades of progress in reducing youth tobacco use in the United States.

“We are dealing with a really serious problem,” he said. “Last year we had a 78-percent increase in youth use of e-cigarettes. Over 3.6 million kids in the United States use e-cigarettes.”

Willmore went on to say that over 20-percent of high school kids now use e-cigarettes, according to studies from the FDA and the Surgeon General’s office.

Dr. Sherri Young, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department chief health officer and Willmore both said that vaping was originally framed as a product that would help an individual quit nicotine products such as regular cigarettes. In doing so, they said manufacturers used the flavors such as gummy bears and watermelon to attract the young crowd.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 70 percent of children users report the flavors as the reason they use e-cigarettes.

On Monday, the FDA said that JUUL has violated federal regulations by promoting its tobacco products as healthier than traditional cigarettes.

Young told MetroNews there are ways to quit nicotine products without using e-cigs.

Dr. Sherri Young

“There are lots of materials we can supply as health professionals including medication, patches. There are materials that don’t involve inhaling anything,” she said.

Young said there are over 450 cases of serious lung illnesses in across the country with e-cigarette use with children, including three deaths.

While the epidemic is a strong word to use, Young said it’s accurate.

“It’s not one isolated geographical area,” she said.  “It’s not one isolated group or age group, we are seeing this across the board with acute illnesses. We are seeing this in every state.

“In addition to the hospitalization and other issues, the FDA is looking into 127 cases of seizure activity.”

Willmore is fixed on exposing the tobacco companies for the untruthful marketing messages and bringing together anyone affected by the problem to fight for policy change.

Young is also ready to take on the fight and said parents need to stay informed.

“Stay informed, stay diligent, get the correct information and communicate it with your children,” she said. “They don’t know the necessary dangers of vaping. They may have been told it is safer because that is the way the messaging was framed initially.”