E-cigarettes prompt debate at Oklahoma Capitol

Public health and tobacco industry officials passionately discussed the potential benefits and risks of expanded e-cigarette use Wednesday during a joint legislative hearing at the state Capitol.
by Randy Ellis Modified: January 23, 2014 at 8:00 pm •  Published: January 22, 2014
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Lichtenfeld said big tobacco companies have gotten into the production of e-cigarettes because it is a “fundamental nicotine addicting product to get new customers.”

Lichtenfeld said researchers have not had adequate time to study the extent to which e-cigarettes are harmful to health. Nor have they had time to adequately study whether increased use of e-cigarettes would make cigarette use once again more acceptable to the public, he said.

“We need to be sure, because we run the risk of backtracking to where we were in the past,” Lichtenfeld said. “Until we know for sure, we should not change what we know works.

Terry Cline, Gov. Mary Fallin's secretary of Health and Human Services, agreed with Lichtenfeld that the research is still unclear about the potential risks and benefits of e-cigarettes.

Cline said he is deeply concerned because surveys are showing increased e-cigarette use among high school and middle school students.

Lorillard is among the tobacco companies that have entered the e-cigarette industry.

Michael Shannon, Lorillard's vice president of external affairs and associate general counsel, said company officials believe persuading people to switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes would improve public health. He advocated encouraging people to switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes by either not applying excise taxes to e-cigarettes or taxing them at a much lower rate than cigarettes.

The tobacco representative and public health officials were in agreement on one thing: e-cigarettes are not for children.

They all advocated legislation banning sale of e-cigarettes to children under 18, and Nitzkin said he would even favor raising the age to 21.

Cline said the Oklahoma Department of Health is backing a bill by state Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore, that would prohibit e-cigarette sales to minors.


by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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