NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — In the wake of a teen vaping epidemic nationwide and right here in our area, the CEO of the largest e-cigarette company is now speaking out.

This comes after new concerns about a potential link between teen vaping and severe lung damage, CBS2’s Alex Denis reported Thursday.

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Kevin Burns, the head of Juul, is defending his company’s reputation amid growing concerns and mounting lawsuits tied to vaping. Juul markets itself as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, but when CBS This Morning’s Tony Dokoupil asked if their products are safer than cigarettes, Burns wouldn’t say.

(credit: CBS2)

“I’m not gonna comment about where I am in terms of that,” Burns said.

Dokoupil countered, “Cigarettes are here. The patch is here. Juul is in the middle?”

“Let’s just say cigarettes are known to be the No. 1 source of preventable death in the world,” Burns said.

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In recent weeks, cigarette sales volume declined more than 7%, and reports indicate e-cigarette sales, led by Juul, are a major reason for that. But burns conceded that the long-term effects of vaping are not known.

Milwaukee’s health department is urging people to stop using e-cigarettes, following reports indicating 16 people in Wisconsin who vaped marijuana-based products developed lung disease.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control is investigating nearly 200 cases in 22 states possibly linked to e-cigarettes. What’s more, the growing illegal use by minors.

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Dr. Tara Narula explained to CBS This Morning the new struggle for doctors.

“They’re seeing this pattern of inhalation injury that looks similar in all the kids who are presenting. Kids that previously had no lung disease, who were healthy ages 15- 23, who suddenly have shortness of breath, chest pain, flu-like symptoms and within days to a week are ending up on oxygen, on a ventilator.”

Juul recognizes the problem and has implemented a new identification verification system in more than 40,000 stores. It prohibits cashiers from selling products to underage shoppers and places limits on the amount that people can buy.

“You have to have a valid ID to scan for the transaction to go though in the system,” one store employee said.

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Narula said parents can help by familiarizing themselves with vaping products and its affects.

“It can look like a pen, a USB. A lot of them can be easily concealed. They don’t have a lot of vapor,” Narula said.

Parents should also make note of a sweet smell or odor on their kids’ clothes or in their room, increased thirst, irritability or anxiety, nose bleeds and coughing. All can be signs of a teen who’s vaping.

And Burns, himself, has a direct message for non-smokers thinking of using Juul.

“Don’t vape. Don’t use Juul. Don’t start using nicotine if you don’t have a preexisting relationship with nicotine. Don’t use the product. You’re not our target consumer,” Burns said.

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Narula also encourages parents to speak to children as young as kindergarten about the risks.