Are E-Cigarettes The New Addiction?

Thursday, January 23rd 2014, 10:55 pm
By: News 9

We see people doing it in stores, sporting events, even at work. Thousands of Oklahomans are trading smoke for vapor with electronic cigarettes. They're marketed as safe, but how do we know?

E-cigs look very similar to regular cigarettes,  but instead of tobacco, the device contains liquid nicotine which turns into vapor that smokers inhale.  John Durst owns OKC Vapes. He meets customers every day who say they've quit smoking thanks to e-cigs.

"It has the hand to mouth they're looking for," Durst said. "I wouldn't want anybody to pick this up and start from scratch with this. That's not what it's intended. It's intended for people who already smoke who want an alternative."

Learn more about E-Cigarettes in Oklahoma.

Not all e-cig users are trying to kick the habit. Leslie Nguyen, 23, picked up vaping as a hobby.

"It's like eating your favorite donut every second of every day," Nguyen said. "I love tinkering with things. I love building a coil. I like putting a fresh battery in my unit."

She uses little to no nicotine, but likes experimenting with new flavors.

"It's like inhaling flavored air," Nguyen said. "How big of a vape I can get. How smooth it can be. It's almost like showboating a little."

There's growing concern teenagers are curious about e-cigarettes too.

A 2013 survey of Oklahoma youth found 17.9% of high school students and 6.6% of middle schoolers have tried an e-cigarette. A new CDC survey found 1.78 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2012, double from the year before. The agency says that suggests e-cigarettes may open the door to other tobacco products.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said, "The brains of middle schoolers and high schools are still developing, and research shows that their brains are even more susceptible to nicotine addiction."

Learn more about free methods to quit tobacco.

OKC Vapes store manager Taylor Halley believes most younger e-cig users are doing it for other reasons.

"It is concerning a little bit to see that some are picking up the nicotine habit," Halley said. "A lot of the younger generation are picking the flavors that have zero nicotine in them. They see the vapor and they still like the clouds without having the addictive qualities of the nicotine."

You won't find kids in OKC Vapes. They don't sell to minors. But could former smokers be trading one bad habit for another? Integris Cardiologist Doctor Jeffrey Sparling says it's too early to know if e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative.

"There are plenty of products thought safe that many years on down the line end up causing trouble" Dr. Sparling said. "This is a wild west industry. There is very little regulation. Consumers really have no idea what they're ingesting."

It is a choice worth the risk for some former smokers.

"I like that I don't stink. I don't cough." said former smoker Heather McElwain.

"I feel 100% better," agreed Scott Sawyer. "I bought a motorcycle with the money I saved from cigarettes."

20 states currently ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Oklahoma is not one of them.

E-cigarette related bills introduced in the State House and Senate for the 2014 Legislative Session:

HB 2988: Prohibiting the purchase or possession of e-cigarettes by certain individuals

HB 2989: Revenue and taxation; electronic cigarette; excise tax; procedures; apportionment

HB 2904: Prohibiting the purchase or possession of e-cigarettes by certain individuals

HB 3451: Prohibiting the purchase or possession of e-cigarettes by certain individuals

SB 1602: Prevention of Youth Access to Tobacco Act; permitting suspension of certain license for certain violations

SB 1780: Public health; prohibiting purchases or possession of vapor products by minors; providing fines for violations

SB 1835: Tobacco products; prohibiting purchases or possession of vapor products by minors