Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin bans use of e-cigarettes on public property

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma has signed an executive order banning the use of electronic cigarettes, also known as personal vaporizers on public property.

The leader of the Oklahoma Vapor Advocacy League (OVAL) immediately decried the action.

Fallin’s order came less than a week after her Cabinet Secretary of Health, Terry Cline, issued an advisory assailing the non-tobacco products.  

Fallin’s order, effective Jan. 1, 2014, will prohibit the use of e-cigarettes on state owned and leased lands. The ban will extend to state vehicles, according to Fallin’s office.

OVAL President Sean Gore told Oklahoma Watchdog the governor has “by equating these products with deadly cigarettes, removed motivation for smokers to switch. In doing so she is using the powers of her office to protect the profits of big tobacco in Oklahoma.”

OVAL’s members consider this “an abuse of power by the governor, similar to abuses by the Obama administration. The legislature is actively working on these issues and she is sidestepping lawmakers, who are working hard to develop meaningful regulation of these products.”

Two years ago, Fallin signed an executive order that banned use of tobacco products on state property. However, e-cigarettes are not tobacco products. Some contain nicotine, but other “vape” products do not. 

OVAL activists have battled anti-vape ordinances in several municipalities, and secured a notable success in the eastern Oklahoma town of Tahlequah.

However, the Oklahoma State University Board of Regents early this month joined the towns of Ada and Shawnee as the latest jurisdictions to ban the products on public property

In a Dec. 23 statement to Oklahoma Watchdog, Fallin said, “E-cigarettes release vapor that contains chemicals that can impact employees and visitors to state property. Additionally, many electronic cigarettes look like traditional cigarettes and emit a vapor that looks like smoke. This creates confusion for employees and visitors and presents enforcement challenges for state agencies.”

Fallin also said, “If you’re a state employee who smokes or uses e-cigarettes, I encourage you to make quitting your New Year’s resolution,” said Fallin. “We have resources at your disposal to help you quit.”

Secretary Cline, in his Dec. 17 “public health advisory,” decried vapor products but did not equate them with tobacco in terms of harm, but attacked the products for including nicotine delivery systems. 

He said, “E-cigarettes/vapor products have not been adequately tested nor approved as tobacco cessation devices. Nicotine replacement therapy products approved by the FDA contain controlled doses of nicotine and have been tested and regulated for safety and effectiveness.

“More research is needed on the impact of e-cigarettes/vapor products and how they affect cancer, heart disease, and other long-term health consequences. Caution is advised until further research is conducted on the long-term effects of e-cigarettes/vapor products.”

The state government’s intensified antagonism toward e-cigarettes comes in the wake of a year-long push from the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), using millions of dollars to incentivize local governments to enact ordinances banning e-cigarettes on public property.

Jonathan Small, vice president of policy analysis for the Oklahoma Council oof Public Affairs (OCPA), the state’s largest free market think tank, told Oklahoma Watchdog in a previous interview that TSET and the health department were “putting out false information and refusing to provide citizens with information on research that disagrees with their biased view.”

Small has also said a preferred use of TSET resources would be to focus on beneficial efforts. It is time to dedicate all TSET’s earnings, over $30 million annually, towards matching employers efforts to purchase private health insurance coverage through programs such as Insure Oklahoma.”

Some public health officials have touted e-cigarettes as a means to promote tobacco harm reduction. New York City passed an e-cig ban last week, but only after former Surgeon General Richard Carmona criticized the proposal.

Commentators for The New York Times were among the leading voices calling for tolerance of e-cigarettes

The R Street Institute earlier this year published a detailed survey of literature that supported e-cigarettes as a comparatively healthy alternative to tobacco products. 

You may contact Pat at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com .