E-cigarettes popularity increasing, but questions remain
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You may have seen them – they almost look like a ballpoint pen from the future – except there’s a puff of stream of vapor coming out of the end. They’re e-cigarettes, and their popularity is increasing. While there isn’t a whole lot of data on them because they’re so new, one shows use nearly doubling nationwide between 2010 and 2011. I sat down with Michael Cross to sort through this smoky story…
Okay Michael, there’s your plain old cigarette, then there’s your e-cigarette. But the change is more than adding a letter and hyphen…here’s Jennifer Lepard with the State Department of Health…
“To have something new on the market that we don’t know much about makes us feel very uncomfortable because we want people to know we know what we’re trying to get everyone to do.”
They might be new products, but nearly every convenience store in Oklahoma carries them. But the big thing now: independent shops selling e-cigarettes under the name of vapes.
You see these poppping up all over the place, there’s one right here in Stillwater: Vapor Kings. I went there and checked it out.
“A little bit of everybody. Of course our minimum age is 18, but we go all the way up to the 80s.”
Phil Emi runs the store – it opened up back in February. They’re already up to 4 locations in just a couple years. And in talking with people at the store, it’s clear why people are moving towards e-cigs…
“I want my health to be good, I want to be more active, I don’t want to smell like an ash tray and offending other people.”
So people are using this to quit?
Pretty much. It’s as simple as that. There isn’t really any other reason besides quitting, and if there is one, it comes down to quitting.
If nothing else, they’re not having the tar, not having the smoke. So even if it’s not to quit altogether, at least it’s a safer way to get the nicotine.
And that’s the idea behind this. It’s the same hand to mouth motion, they’re still getting the nicotine, they even have flavors designed to mimic the taste of cigarette brands on the market.
Beyond just regular or menthol, they’ve got cherry, chocolate, gobstopper.
130! They’ve got all these different mixes, and this sounds almost like candy to me.
And the worry is that this might go to young people.
The word of mouth is spreading so quickly that some aren’t even buying for themselves, I asked Ashley Hitchcock from Stillwater why she was buying…
“She’s made it this far smoking, I don’t really want her to chance it anymore. She’s doing okay and she needs to kinda level off with all of her medicine health wise. She just needs to figure out an alternative without having to completely cut it off.”
The she she’s talking about? That’s her 70 year old mother, a smoker for forty plus years. So they’re converting people to e-cigarette, people who were on cigarettes for years and years and years.
For all this talk about using e-cigs to quit, and there’s a lot, Jennifer Lepard says the evidence simply isn’t there yet…
“We want to base everything we do in the science. And until it’s out there, we’re going to just have to wait and see.”
There’s the FDA and others a lot of people wanting to make sure products are safe, then there’s legislation.
Michael, you’re at the Capitol just about every day they’re in session, and there’s someone you see pretty often:
Sean Gore, he’s the owner of Get Vaped in Edmond, but also the Chairman of the Oklahoma Vapor Advocacy League or OVAL. They are out there making sure lawmakers don’t overstep their bounds and crush this new industry that is just starting to pop up.
In fact, a bill that came out earlier this session would have made Oklahomans purchase only from online dealers or from e-cigarette wholesalers.
“The bottom line is what you’d be doing is hurting the Oklahoma economy. These stores would have to shut down. I know my store alone employs 6 people. There’s other stores that employ 30 to 40 people across the state, we have more vapor shops than anywhere. That’s a lot of people that are going to be out of a job.”
Sean’s efforts paid off when the Senate bill got killed in a House committee. Now pardon me here Michael, but this isn’t as white and red as a Marlboro…I mean you have a doctor lining up against the bill.
Representative Doug Cox came out against what was then Senate Bill 802 in the committee and says he supports the use of e-cigarettes.
“I would be very happy if I could get every patient I see that smokes cigarettes to move to e-cigarettes. People would live a lot longer with a lot less health problems. And that’s why I tended to listen to the people who ran the vapor shops and use the e-cigarettes who opposed the bill.”
Right now, it’s in a conference committee. And Senator Rob Johnson of Kingfisher says he wants to create a new definition so vapes don’t get taxed as tobacco.
“Right now, the maximum is one tenth of the rate of a pack of cigarettes. If we can differentiate and say these are not going to be taxed the same, that way they are a lower tax. These are less harmful, they shouldn’t be taxed at the same rate.”
It’s in conference committee and could be put on hold until next session.
Everyone is looking to one group: the FDA.
It will decide whether or not to start regulating e-cigarettes as tobacco products and if they do claim it as tobacco products, that could cause a lot of problems for the owners of these new vape shops.