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­Oregon’s New E-cigarette Law: More Fresh Air, Less Youth Access to Nicotine

Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently signed a new law that means inhalant delivery systems, including e-cigarettes, can no longer be used in any indoor area that is already smokefree under the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act (ICAA), as of January 1, 2016.

The new law also helps keep nicotine out of the hands of kids by not allowing the sale of inhalant delivery systems to minors—an important step at a time when youth use of e-cigarettes is climbing dramatically in Oregon and nationally.

Use of e-cigarettes mimics conventional cigarette smoking, and e-cigarettes also contain the same addictive ingredient, nicotine. Instead of smoke from burning tobacco, e-cigarette users inhale aerosol consisting of nicotine, flavor additives and other chemicals. When users inhale from the end of an e-cigarette, a battery-operated device heats a liquid solution (e-liquid or e-juice) into an aerosol. (See image below.)

OHA-how-ecigarettes-work-01

You may be surprised at how many teens are using e-cigarettes compared to just a few years ago. Oregon saw a 150 percent increase in e-cigarette use among high school-age kids from 2011 to 2013. Nationally, e-cigarette use among high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014—from 4.5% to 13.4%, according to a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We expect to see a similar increase in Oregon when new numbers are reported this fall.

These rising rates are troubling because, while the risks posed by e-cigarettes are still being studied and are not fully understood, we know that smokeless does not mean harmless. Preliminary testing of e-cigarettes has identified chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects in first and secondhand e-cigarette aerosol, including the carcinogens formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

We also know that e-cigarettes increasingly are serving as starter products for kids and teens to other tobacco products and, potentially, a lifetime of nicotine dependence. A national survey found that youth who had tried e-cigarettes were nearly twice as likely to say they would try a conventional cigarette.

In Oregon, our Oregon Healthy Teens Survey revealed that one in five 11th-graders, and one in three 8th-graders, who are currently using e-cigarettes have never tried conventional cigarettes—and therefore are being introduced to nicotine through e-cigarettes.

Not allowing the sale of e-cigarettes to kids and teens is an important step toward reducing youth access, but it’s only the first step. Tobacco products and e-cigarettes continue to appeal to young people, despite laws that prevent their sale to minors. Tobacco products and e-cigarettes are attractive to youth because of pricing strategies that lower the cost; targeted marketing; and kid-friendly fruit and candy flavors such as grape, “cherry crush” and chocolate.

Oregon’s new law, in addition to protecting kids and teens, benefits all Oregonians by addressing concerns about the contents of e-cigarette aerosol. Despite manufacturers’ claims that their products are safe, there is evidence that the aerosols produced by e-cigarettes contain carcinogens and other toxic chemicals.

By expanding Oregon’s Smokefree Workplace Law to include e-cigarettes and other inhalant delivery systems, the law protects our right to breathe fresh air that is free of these potential toxins. Oregon is now one of eight states in the country to include e-cigarettes in its Smokefree Workplace Law.

As an Oregonian, I hope you’re as proud as I am that our Legislature has taken this step to preserve our fresh air and to help prevent our young people from becoming addicted to nicotine and tobacco products.

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