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Lawmakers say change is needed after hearing benefits of e-cigarettes

OKLAHOMA CITY – In 2012, Oklahoma ranked 47th out of the 50 states for adults who  smoke.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, that ranking had changed to 39th in the nation by 2013.

Some Oklahomans are crediting the popularity of electronic cigarettes or vapor devices for the drop in smokers.

We have heard story after story of the devices being banned from certain businesses, schools and even state buildings.

However, state lawmakers gathered to hear about the benefits of the devices on Wednesday.

Those in favor of e-cigarettes say the devices are a good tool to help smokers eventually kick the habit.

Lawmakers from the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services and the House Committee on Public Health heard from those selling the products and from health officials.

Both groups talked about the benefits, or lack there of, for the tobacco free products.

It was a long, informative hearing that educated state lawmakers on e-cigarettes and vaporizing devices.

Those in the vaping industry, medical professionals and the American Cancer Society were on hand voicing an opinion.

Michael Shannon, with Lorilland, Inc, said, “E-cigarette is the greatest harm-reduction product ever offered to smokers.”

Dr. Joel Nitzkin, with R Street Institute, said, “If we are going to do better in terms of reducing illness, death and addiction from cigarettes and other nicotine products, we need a fundamentally new approach.”

However, others disagreed.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, with the American Cancer Society, said, “We do not recommend e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool.”

The one thing both sides seemed to agree on is that the industry should be regulated.

However, there are a lot of differences in where the regulation should go.

Shannon said, “We can’t treat e-cigarettes, we shouldn’t treat e-cigarettes like cigarettes.”

The American Cancer Society flew Dr. Lichtenfeld, their deputy chief medical officer, in for the hearing.

He says they are not supportive of e-cigarettes but they are also not opposed to the idea.

Lichtenfeld said, “They may be less harmful. They may be effective in tobacco cessation but we don’t yet have the data.”

Jennifer Weisboro was among the many people sitting in on the hearing.

As a vapor shop manager, she is very interested in what happens with the industry in our state.

She said, “It is something you are inhaling into your body and it needs to be safe.”

State lawmakers listened intently, admitting this is an issue which will likely be talked about a lot in the upcoming session.

Sen. Ralph Shortey said, “I’m glad we’re having this study. I’m glad it’s being hashed out. I’m glad both sides can present and I’m glad there’s this kind of interest in it because it does affect a lot of people.”

Lawmakers say there needs to be regulation of the e-cigarette and vapor industry, specifically restricting anyone under the age of 18 from buying the products.

The American Cancer Society says they encourage Oklahoma lawmakers to be careful moving forward on this issue.

They also recommend waiting on some of the regulation until the FDA has had a chance to outline its rules on the issue.