Use of electronic cigarettes will be banned on state-owned and state-leased properties starting Jan. 1 under an executive order signed Monday by Gov. Mary Fallin.
Two years ago she signed a similar order against tobacco products, and lawmakers made that ban permanent earlier this year.
Fallin said she's trying to protect state employees and visitors.
“E-cigarettes release vapor that contains chemicals that can impact employees and visitors to state property,” she said. “Additionally, many electronic cigarettes look like traditional cigarettes and emit a vapor that looks like smoke. This creates confusion for employees and visitors, and presents enforcement challenges for state agencies.
“If you're a state employee who smokes or uses e-cigarettes, I encourage you to make quitting your New Year's resolution,” she said. “We have resources at your disposal to help you quit.”
Sean Gore, chairman of the Oklahoma Vapors Advocacy League, said the executive order unfairly demonizes electronic cigarettes.
Gore, who also owns two vapor stores in central Oklahoma, said he believes electronic cigarettes are an effective tool for those who are trying to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes, and the move to ban them on state property will rob many of a valuable cessation product.
“I think it will drive them right back to smoking,” Gore said. “What's the difference? If we can't vape, we might as well smoke.”
Gore also denies that there are credible studies that indicate secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes is harmful.
Terry Cline, Oklahoma's health secretary, disagrees, saying that e-cigarettes are not marketed as cessation products and should not be treated as such until further study can be done.
Cline added that secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes can, in fact, be harmful.
“It is a myth that the vapor is only a water vapor,” Cline said.
“It does, as indicated by research, contain chemicals that are vaporized into the air. So there is secondhand exposure to that.”
Cline said as the head of the executive branch of the state government, it is Fallin's job not only to promote a healthy work environment and pay for the health care costs of the state's employees, but also to ensure a safe and healthy environment for the thousands of Oklahoma citizens who utilize state property.
“Oklahoma is a large employer,” Cline said. “This particular employer wants to make sure there is a safe environment that provides clean air.”
Cline also noted that the Legislature plans to take further steps by introducing measures that would regulate the product by prohibiting its sale to minors.
Cline urged caution to those who use e-cigarettes, stressing that the product still requires extensive research.
He encouraged those trying to quit smoking to use proven cessation tools such as the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline at (800) 784-8669.