Vaping among young people has reached epidemic proportions both in Oregon and the U.S. according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And this new, high-tech method of inhaling nicotine and other substances seems to be a growing problem in Wallowa County as well.

In Wallowa County, schools ban both smoking and vaping on school grounds and at school activates. But within the past three months, several students and student-athletes have reportedly been involved in vaping at athletic events. Despite the ban on kid-friendly vaping flavors, Mandy Decker, Director of Juvenile Services for Wallowa County, sees vaping as a growing problem.

Just like smoking tobacco, vaping delivers nicotine to the user. Hence, other concerns cited by the CDC include the negative effects of nicotine on the developing adolescent brain, the presence of heavy metals, including nickel, tin and lead in the aerosols inhaled, and the presence of known carcinogens in the same fluids. Flavorings can also trigger serious lung disease.

“It took 20 to 30 years to get the studies out that tobacco could kill you,” said David Howe, principal at Wallowa High School. When it comes to studying vaping, “They’re only a few years into it.” Howe would neither confirm nor deny vaping by Wallowa students.

At Joseph Charter School, high school principal Sherri Kilgore said the school has taken steps to detect vaping in the school buildings and on the school grounds.

“It’s a big enough problem we bought and installed vaping detectors in the bathrooms and locker rooms,” she said. “Those tend to be the places kids go to vape. We already have cameras down all the hallways. … They work, they definitely work.”

She said some students were caught vaping during a wrestling match in January, but they were not Joseph students, were from a visiting school and their coach was notified. Sheriff Steve Rodgers said that the sheriff’s office was called late last year to Joseph Charter School and a youth was cited.

Although youth vaping has been called an epidemic, Kilgore doesn’t believe that’s the case at Joseph. But she admits she could be wrong.

“Problem is, the kids can conceal their use,” she said. “I think it’s a bigger problem than we see.”

Enterprise School Superintendent Erika Pinkerton agreed, but noted that there haven’t been any known incidents in Enterprise this school year.

Enterprise Police Chief Joel Fish noted that there was an incident at the Enterprise School where someone was reported vaping during a game. He didn’t recall if anyone was caught or a citation was issued.

While a 2018, congressionally mandated, National Academy of Science study found that e-cigarettes and vaping may be less harmful than conventional cigarettes, it also noted that the long term effect of e-cigarettes was not clear, and that they were likely to draw more young people into nicotine addiction and, ultimately cigarette smoking.

Mandy Decker, Director of Juvenile Services for Wallowa County, said Friday, March 6, that although the youth vaping problem is growing, it doesn’t seem to be very widespread in Wallowa County — yet.

“We’re not seeing it all the time, but obviously it’s here,” Decker said.

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