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WASHINGTON (CBSMiami) – The government’s top doctor is warning parents, doctors and health professionals about the dangers of e-cigarettes.

It comes as federal health officials try to combat the rapid rise in e-cigarette use among America’s youth.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams officially declared e-cigarettes an epidemic in the US.

“We must protect our nation’s young people from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and associated problems,” said Adams.

E-cigarette use has skyrocketed among the middle and high school set. According to the latest federal data, the percentage of high school age children reporting e-cigarette use in the past 30 days rose 75 percent from last year. Vaping among middle school-age children also increased by nearly 50 percent.

Currently, more than 3.6 million US youth use e-cigarettes, including 1 in 5 high school students.

“Students are bringing e-cigarettes to the schools, using it in the school bathrooms and at times, during class. How do we know that? Because they are taking selfies of themselves vaping in the classroom,” said substance abuse counselor Dr. Mila Vascones.

The unprecedented rise in vaping comes at a time when traditional cigarette smoking, drinking, and other drug use has gone down among young people. Health experts stress less harm is not harmless.

“We know that nicotine exposure during adolescence can uniquely harm the developing adolescent brain, impacting learning, memory, and attention,” said Adams.

The Food and Drug Administration introduced steps last month to cut down young people’s access to flavored e-cigarettes which is driving the epidemic. Officials say they will continue to crack down on stores that illegally sell e-cigarettes to minors.

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