Snohomish County expected to push for public vaping ban

EVERETT — The Snohomish Health District is expected to push for a ban on use of electronic cigarettes in public places, following questions from business owners over whether vaping is allowed.

The public health agency will probably schedule several public meetings this spring on the issue, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

The rules would be the same as those that already apply statewide on products like cigarettes and cigars, he said. The new measure is needed because electronic cigarettes aren’t covered by that law, although individual businesses can ban vaping on their premises, Goldbaum said.

“It’s really just been over the last year that I’ve witnessed much real interest in trying to regulate these devices,” he said.

The Snohomish Health District has gotten some complaints from the public and questions from business owners asking if electronic cigarettes are allowed, said Aran Enger, a senior environmental health specialist at the health district.

In one case, a business was demonstrating vaping products inside the Everett Mall, he said. There is nothing in current regulations to prohibit that, he said.

Heather Thomas, a health district spokeswoman, said a coworker was at a movie theater and and saw someone vaping who said they technically had the right to do so in public. However, they agreed to extinguish it, she said.

“We realize this will be a sensitive topic,” Thomas said. “We’re just looking out for the public well being. If someone chooses to vape, they can do it in private space, but not in public.”

King, Pierce, Grant and Pasco counties currently have bans on public use of electronic cigarettes, but a number of other counties have plans to do so, Thomas said.

Joe Baba, owner of Tobacco Joes, which sells electronic cigarettes, doesn’t have an immediate position on the proposed local ban on vaping in public places.

When public meetings are held on the issue, “we would have a presence there,” he said.

Baba noted that there are several bills in the Legislature regarding regulation of electronic cigarettes. These include prohibiting businesses from selling vaping products online; ensuring child-safe packaging; restricting marketing and sales activities targeted at youth; and increasing taxes on vaping products.

Baba said electronic cigarette businesses encourage responsible legislation to prevent access to minors. But he said the industry feels as if “we have a target on our back.”

People who use electronic cigarettes “are sensitive to public perception and how not to blow a cloud of vapor into somebody’s face in a park,” he said.

Electronic cigarettes typically are equipped with a battery, an atomizer and a cartridge of liquid nicotine. There are more than 400 brands of electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine comes in more than 7,000 flavors, according to the health district.

The devices, which can be purchased online, are not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration, although last year the American Lung Association joined other public heath and medical groups in calling for such action.

The proposed ban on use of electronic cigarettes in public follows an announcement last week by Gov. Jay Inslee of a statewide survey showing eighth and 10th grade students are more than twice as likely to be vaping than smoking cigarettes.

Preliminary results from the 2014 Healthy Youth survey show 8.5 percent of eighth graders, 18 percent of high school sophomores and 23 percent of high school seniors reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, Inslee said.

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