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Electronic Cigarette Use Rises Among Oklahoma Kids

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Are electronic cigarettes a gateway to traditional cigarettes among youth? That's what some health officials fear. Are electronic cigarettes a gateway to traditional cigarettes among youth? That's what some health officials fear.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

Are electronic cigarettes a gateway to traditional cigarettes among youth? That's what some health officials fear.

A recent study by the Journal of American Medical Association found 9th graders who used e-cigarettes were more likely to smoke cigarettes, cigars or hookahs than peers who never tried them.

Click here to read the study.

Here in Oklahoma, e-cigarette use among kids is also on the rise.

"They're popular, you see somebody doing it and it's like 'oh hey, that's cool,'" Westmoore High School graduate Jacquelyn Brown said.

However, Brown said there isn't anything cool about smoking electronic cigarettes. She was a member of SWAT, Students Working Against Tobacco, a group that spreads awareness about the dangers of nicotine.

"It's wrong, it's absolutely wrong," Brown said. "Why would you even start someone towards something that could be preventable?"

Adrienne Rollins with the Oklahoma State Department of Health said much like tobacco products, a lot of the marketing for e-cigarettes targets young people.

"Things are pretty and flashy," Rollins said. "We know with tobacco industry tactics in the past they flavor things with what kids would like and we see very similar flavors with e-cigarettes."

Rollins said in Oklahoma, 7.9 percent of high school students were using e-cigarettes in 2013, compared to 4.5 percent nationally, nearly double. A statistic that concerns health officials who fear tobacco alternative will create a new generation of nicotine addicts and possibly future smokers.

"As we get people to quit or unfortunately many people die from tobacco use and as that cycle continues the only way they stay in business is by finding replacement smokers," she said.

Another trend health officials are seeing in Oklahoma is rise in the number child poisonings from e-juice, the liquid put in an e-cigarette cartridge.

So far in 2015, 80 e-juice poisonings were called in to the poison center, none were deadly, but 64 of those were unintentional exposures involving children 6 and under, according to the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information.

Laura Hill at OKC Vapes says along with childproof caps they also label their products with a warning.

"We do tell people to treat this stuff just as you would treat a household cleaning product when it comes to children because some of our products do have nicotine," Hill said.

Click here to view the Oklahoma Vapor Advocacy League's website.

A new study shows there is no second-hand vaping, and another researcher said e-cigarettes contain less toxic elements than regular cigarettes.

Some states, including Oklahoma, have passed laws prohibiting stores to sell to anyone 18 and under.

"We've always had it posted," Hill said. "That's always been a main priority of ours to make sure nobody under the 18 comes into the store."

But health officials say until the FDA regulates e-cigarettes, they fear the number of kids using them will continue to rise.

"There's not regulation among manufacturing, marketing, distribution, all of these things really contribute to the youth having access and also being driven to use these products," Rollins said.

Currently, the FDA regulates tobacco products and has proposed extending its authority to e-cigarettes and hookah, among other products. It is expected to complete those rules in the coming weeks.

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