Oklahoma health officials worry e-cigarettes may lead youth to cigarette smoking
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.”
Data from the 2013 Oklahoma Youth Tobacco Survey showed that almost 8 percent of Oklahoma high school students and about 3 percent of Oklahoma middle school students who responded to the survey had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, according to the Oklahoma Health Department.
The recent CDC data show that middle and high school students nationwide who had never smoked conventional cigarettes but who used e-cigarettes were almost twice as likely to intend to smoke conventional cigarettes as those who had never used e-cigarettes.
Among nonsmoking youths who had ever used e-cigarettes, almost 44 percent said they intended to smoke conventional cigarettes within the next year, compared to about 22 percent of those who had never used e-cigarettes, according to the CDC.
Michelle Terronez, the tobacco use prevention supervisor at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, said she anticipates that once state-specific data is available, it will show an increase in e-cigarette use among Oklahoma’s youth.
Terronez said she and others at the agency are trying to educate youth, but they’re up against a multimillion dollar industry.
“They have gotten the upper hand on us again,” she said. “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.”
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