A growing number of middle and high school students reported in a recent public health study that they used electronic cigarettes, a trend that concerns Oklahoma’s public health leaders.
More than 263,000 youth who had never smoked a cigarette used electronic cigarettes in 2013, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
This number reflects a three-fold increase, from about 79,000 in 2011, to more than 263,000 in 2013, according to the CDC.
Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Terry Cline said the data in the CDC study, released Monday to media, shows an alarming trend among youths.
“We have had concern that the use of e-cigs may actually be changing the social norm that has developed over the last couple of decades, which really tells us that tobacco use is not cool, that it’s dangerous, that it’s harmful to your health,” Cline said. “The concern is that the increase in e-cig use could be changing that norm to make not only e-cig use more acceptable, but also tobacco use.”
Oklahoma recently saw a historic drop in its smoking rate, a celebrated public health success in 2013. Oklahoma’s ranking in number of adults who smoke conventional cigarettes fell, moving the state’s ranking nationwide from No. 47 to 2011 to No. 39 in 2012.
Cline said he is concerned that the rise in e-cigarettes, especially among young people, will begin to undo the progress that has been made to decrease smoking in Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, research is still being conducted to determine the potential harm of e-cigarettes, although a growing debate continues over the product’s safety, he said.
“We had a period of decades where the research body of evidence was collected to highlight the risk of tobacco use, and meanwhile, they addicted literally millions of individuals to nicotine,” Cline said. “For electronic cigarettes, which also contain addictive nicotine, we know that there are some risks, and we are still evaluating those risks versus any potential benefit.”
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They work very hard to come up with replacement smokers for adults who either stop smoking or they pass away, and they have a history of trying to get youths engaged in smoking their products, and a lot of the tobacco companies are really on this electronic cigarette bandwagon.”
the tobacco use prevention supervisor at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department