County Health District adopts ban on vaping in public places

A countywide ban on vaping in public places, such as parks, and at restaurants or other businesses, is scheduled to go into effect Dec. 10 following action Tuesday by the Snohomish Health District board.

Snohomish County joins four other counties — King, Pierce, Grant and Clark — in regulating public use of vaping, or e-cigarettes, as they do tobacco.

Sampling of vaping products will be allowed only in permitted retail outlets that exclude minors and specialize exclusively in selling vaping products.

“No vaping” signs must be posted in public places.

The public health agency has been considering restrictions on the use and sale of vaping products since February. Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, said one of the reasons for the proposal to restrict vaping or e-cigarettes is because of the dramatic increase in use of the devices, and the potential for creating a life-long addiction to nicotine.

There’s also concern about young children accidentally being exposed to the nicotine often contained in the liquid or “juice” used in vaping devices. Last year, the Washington Poison Center received 182 calls about children being exposed to the liquid nicotine products. Just a few drops of “E-juice” absorbed by the skin or swallowed can send a child to the emergency room, according to the state Department of Health.

Most of the discussion by health board members Tuesday focused on the nitty-gritty of a few words in the ordinance, which was approved unanimously. One of the ongoing debates between those calling for a ban on vaping in public and those who oppose it was whether sampling of vaping products should be allowed.

The health district board approved a plan that says sampling can take place in stores that prohibit anyone younger than 18, but can provide no more than five seats for customers. Goldbaum said he did not want stores that exclusively sell vaping products to become, in effect, vaping lounges.

Mike Webb, representing state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, spoke during a short public hearing on the health district’s proposal. Webb said that although there’s a state law banning sale of vaping products to minors, no one is enforcing it.

The Snohomish County ordinance corrects that, he said. The Snohomish Health District has said it plans to work with vaping businesses but now has the power to enforce the regulations. That will be done through inspections, warnings, health officer’s orders, and failure to comply could result in civil fines or permits being suspended or revoked.

Only one person representing the vaping business turned out to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, although many more have participated in several public meetings previously held on the proposal.

Joe Baba, of Clearview, representing the Washington Vape Association, said he understood that the months-long discussion about the ordinance has been “a very challenging process.”

There are still questions over whether there’s a health risk to people exposed to the second- hand vapor created by the devices, he said. “There’ve been studies showing the exposure is quite minimal. … I know it’s debatable,” he said.

Health district board member Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, also an Edmonds City Council member, pushed the board to consider requiring the containers of liquid used in vaping to be childproof, because of the potential for harm to children if they contain nicotine. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is currently considering such a move.

However, board members ultimately decided to move ahead with the ordinance and perhaps reconsider a move to require childproof packaging in the future.

Sharon Salyer; 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

The new rules

Here are the key points in the new vaping ordinance:

The rules on vaping, including the ban on vaping in public places, take effect Dec. 10.

*Sampling of vaping products is only allowed in permitted retail outlets that exclusively sell vaping products and exclude minors.

*“No vaping” signs must be posted in public places.

*Businesses selling vaping products must post signs saying there are no sales to minors, that nicotine is toxic and should be kept away from children.

*Vaping retailers must verify that customers are 18 or older.

*Vaping products sold at convenience stores must be kept behind the counter or in a secure display.

*Distribution of free samples is prohibited in all places except vaping stores.

*Stores that only sell vaping products can have no more than five seats situated at a sales counter and must have an independent ventilation system.

*Businesses selling vaping products must be permitted but the exact amount of those fees has yet to be set. Those that sell only vaping products will be charged a fee of about $350 a year. There also is a one-time charge of about $500 for a review of their compliance with the ordinance. Other retail stores selling vaping products will be charged about $145 a year.

*Businesses have 60 days from the Dec. 10 effective date to apply for a permit to sell vaping permits.

The Snohomish Health District will enforce the regulations through inspections, warnings, health officer’s orders and actions could include civil fines, suspending or revoking a retail permit and court actions.

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