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Q&A: Health commissioner says it's too soon to say e-cigarettes are safe

Although electronic cigarettes continue to grow in popularity, public health officials argue the jury is still out on their safety.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: November 27, 2013 at 8:00 pm •  Published: November 26, 2013

The use of electronic cigarettes has far outpaced research, leading to gaps in understanding whether the devices are more, less or of comparable harm to their nonelectronic counterparts, state health leaders say.

Dr. Terry Cline, state health commissioner, said he remains concerned the increasing number of people using e-cigarettes are using them without enough information about their safety.

“You're putting vapor into your body, which we know contains chemicals, but because it's unregulated, there's a lot of variability,” Cline said. “There are over 250 of these products out there, and we don't really know what they contain. It's not consistent because it's not regulated in any form or fashion, and that then makes it more difficult to understand.”

Cline answered a few questions about his concerns over e-cigarettes, which have continued to rise in popularity among Oklahomans.

How are e-cigarettes currently regulated?

They're not.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to publish a ruling soon on how e-cigarettes should be regulated. Federal officials said the ruling was stalled by the federal government shutdown in October, but that has long since passed, Cline said.

Meanwhile, there are no laws in Oklahoma that ban selling e-cigarettes to minors. Data from the 2013 Oklahoma Youth Tobacco Survey show that 7.8 percent of Oklahoma high school students and 2.7 percent of Oklahoma middle school students who responded to the survey had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days.

Cline said it's too soon to know how many teenagers start out with e-cigarettes and transition to cigarettes in adulthood.

“We've been very successful in bringing the smoking rates down and trending in the right direction, and part of that is, we've changed the social norm,” Cline said. “You expect to have clean air when you're going to get your hair cut or you're in the grocery store or you're in the movie theater or any of these other public places. With e-cigarettes, they may shift that norm.”

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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