BEND, Ore. - (Update: Adding comments from JUUL Labs)
Studies show there's been an increase in the number of Deschutes County teenagers who say they use e-cigarettes or vape pens. Officials are citing many reasons why this is a serious problem.
Deschutes County Health Services conducts a wellness survey of 11th-graders every other year, asking if they've used vape products in the last 30 days. In 2016, 19 percent said yes, they used vape products. That percentage rose to 29 percent last year.
Officials say they've noticed more middle schoolers using vape products as well. They say the problem has even spread to elementary schools.
They say one issue is some students, and even parents, believe vape products are not as harmful as conventional cigarettes. The website of arguably the most popular vape product, JUUL, said one single pod is equal to an entire pack of cigarettes.
"It's really been in the last few years that we've seen this increase in our schools and in our communities,” Katie Legace, executive director of high school programs for Bend-La Pine Schools, said Monday.
“I think the lack of education has been an issue for us. When I say us, I mean all of us -- schools and parents and our communities. So the more we can work together on that, the better for our kids."
Legace said vape products are basically replacing cigarettes as a form of getting tobacco into your system. That might just be temporary. Another Deschutes County survey shows people who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to use conventional cigarettes later in life.
That’s one reason officials say these products can be very harmful to teenagers.
"Nicotine we know harms learning, impulse control, attention, all things that are very critical for young people,” said Lauren Wood, a drug-free communities coordinator with Deschutes County. “We also know that young people's brains are developing into their mid-20s, so nicotine is certainly a concern in terms of impacting that development."
Wood also said young people are particularly susceptible to addiction. She said the earlier you use an addictive substance like e-cigarettes, the more likely you are to become addicted to other substances later in life.
Ashlee Davis, a counselor with Bend-La Pine Schools, said there's a few reasons why the problem continues to spread. Access to vape products has become easier, as you can buy them online. She also said some students see vaping as a fun risk, or a way to push the boundaries.
Davis said the best way to help your child stop vaping is to become educated on the dangers.
"Another piece for parents is having open dialogue and conversation with their kids,” Davis said. “We all know that teenagers' lecturing goes in one ear and out the other. The more open dialogue that they can have and asking those questions of, 'What are you interested in about vaping, or what intrigues you about it? How does it make you feel? Why do you do it?’"
Davis said she understands a part of growing up is trying new things. She said it's important to set expectations with your child and let them know where you stand on vaping.
JUUL representatives provided this statement to NewsChannel 21 late Monday:
“We are committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products, and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL. We cannot fulfill our goal to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated. That is why we have taken the most dramatic and aggressive steps of any other manufacturer in the industry to prevent underage use with the JUUL Labs Action Plan.
“We suspended the distribution of certain flavored JUULpods to traditional retail stores as of November 17, 2018, strengthened the age verification of our industry leading e-commerce site, exited our U.S. Facebook and Instagram accounts, and are developing new technology to further limit youth access and use.
"In addition, we strongly support raising the minimum purchase age for cigarettes, tobacco and vaping products to 21. We look forward to working with lawmakers at at the federal, state and local levels to achieve this end."