OKLAHOMA CITY - Lately there has been an increase in reports of sickness and deaths that are directly related to electronic cigarette use. Now, Oklahoma is on the forefront of the fight to determine why. 

The National Institutes of Health awarded a grant to the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center at OU to put the teen vaping trend to the test. The project will be one of the nation's first studies to look at long-term effects of e-cigarettes.

So far, OU Pulmonologist Dr. Jeremy Moad said patients sick from the devices have not shown up on his clinic's doorstep, but he admitted that marketing tactics saying they were safe meant doctors have not been looking as closely. 

“I bet what we’d find is that over the last ten years, yeah there’s a lot more cases than just the last year,” Moad said. “The concerning thing is that so many have died recently, and that’s probably what we’re thinking is maybe a black market issue.”

For this nearly $1 million study, 150 participants aged 15 through 21 will help researchers break down the data.

OTRC Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Dr. Alayna Tackett, who is leading the project, explained, “We’re going to get 100 people who are current users of these products, 50 non-users, and we’re going to bring them into the lab and study the differences, if any, related to the effects of e-cigarettes.”

The participants will bring their own product of choice and have vaping sessions that monitor how much liquid they are using and how well they are breathing over the course of a year. Moad said they already know some possible effects.

“It damages the lining of the lungs,” Moad said. “Then it causes a significant amount of inflammation.”

Tackett said the comprehensive project will tell them much more, though.

She said, “We know very little about why youth are choosing and young adults are choosing to use these products when they haven’t used any other tobacco products to date, and we know very little about what changes happen when you start using these products.”

Participants will soon be able to sign up on the OTRC’s website here.