OKLAHOMA CITY (Jan. 22, 2014) – Lawmakers should avoid public health policies that perpetuate the myth that that all tobacco and nictotine products present a similar risk of potentially fatal illness, R Street Institute Senior Fellow Dr. Joel Nitzkin told a joint study committee of the Oklahoma state Senate and House of Representatives on e-cigarettes and tobacco harm reduction methods.

In his presentation, Nitzkin proposed a number of affirmative steps the Legislature could take to reduce tobacco initiation and encourage current smokers to quit, including fully enforcing age restrictions on the purchase of all tobacco and nicotine products and considering upping the age to purchase any tobacco product from 18 to 21. He also proposed policies to crack down on contraband sales, citing recent surveys finding that between 30.5 percent and 42.1 percent of cigarettes consumed in Eastern seaboard states with high cigarette taxes did not bear the proper local tax stamps.

However, Nitzkin advised Oklahoma lawmakers against following the recent examples of Utah, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and New York City, all of which have extended public no-smoking bans to cover e-cigarettes.

“The state should not prohibit use of e-cigarettes or other smoke-free tobacco products in non-smoking areas,” Nitzkin said. “Such a law or regulation could do harm by leaving the impression that these products are as hazardous to bystanders as cigarettes.”

He urged lawmakers to engage with those in the public health community who endorse tobacco harm reduction strategies, adding that lower-risk smokeless tobacco and nicotine products should be subject to lighter taxes than cigarettes and other forms of smoked tobacco, to encourage switching.

Nitzkin also offered updates to his November 2013 R Street paper, “The promise of e-cigarettes for tobacco harm reduction.” The updates, available here, cover such issues as smokeless tobacco warnings; data on contraband, the percentage of smokers who initiate tobacco after their 18th birthday, the relative addictiveness of different classes of tobacco and nicotine products, the level of toxins in exhaled e-cigarette vapor; and the role the major producers of pharmaceutical nicotine reduction therapy products have played in the push to ban e-cigarettes.

“If there was any doubt as to the attitude of the pharmaceutical companies relative to the threat posed by e-cigarettes, their actions, largely behind the scenes, has done everything within their power to eliminate the competition posed by e-cigarettes,” Nitzkin wrote.

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