Oklahoma youth using e-cigarettes

December 5, 2013

New data on tobacco use among Oklahoma youth indicate a significant number of youth are trying electronic cigarettes.

Research shows that youth who are exposed to tobacco use are more likely to become regular tobacco users, and public health officials are concerned the same will be true of e-cigarettes and vapor products. Oklahoma has no state law prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes and vapor products to youth, unlike laws that restrict youth access to other tobacco products.

Data from the 2013 Oklahoma Youth Tobacco Survey (OYTS) show that 7.8 percent of Oklahoma high school students and 2.7 percent of Oklahoma middle school students who responded to the survey had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. Of those who responded, 17.9 percent of high school students and 6.6 percent of middle school students reported ever using an e-cigarette. The 2013 survey is the first year that the OYTS has included a question about e-cigarette use.

Nationally, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012. Data from the 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey show that electronic cigarette use increased among middle school students from 0.6 percent in 2011 to 1.1 percent in 2012 and among high school students from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent. “The use of vapor products among youth is concerning, as nicotine is a highly addictive substance that may negatively affect the developing brain,” said State Health Commissioner Terry Cline. “It’s important that we protect youth from exposure to these products, just as we work to protect youth from exposure to all tobacco products.”

There are currently no restrictions on the advertising of vapor products, unlike advertising restrictions on other tobacco products aimed at reducing youth exposure. Vapor products also are available in a variety of flavors, whereas flavored cigarettes were banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2009 due to their potential appeal to youth. The lack of restrictions related to sales to minors, advertising, and availability of flavors may impact current and future use of e-cigarettes and vapor products by youth in Oklahoma, Cline said.

In addition to concerns about youth exposure to and use of vapor products, health officials are concerned about the potential negative health impact for anyone exposed to vapor products.

The OYTS was conducted in the spring of 2013 by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Oklahoma State Department of Education, and numerous partners from local health agencies and local school districts.