While the safety and effectiveness of vaping products as a way to wean smokers from tobacco will continue to be debated, more has to be done to limit the access that children and youths have to e-cigarettes and the “e-juice” used in vaping devices.
At least 61 e-cigarette poisonings were reported to the Washington State Poison Control Center in 2015, about 50 of which involved children between the ages of 1 and 3 years.
And the most recent Healthy Youth Survey of state school children in the sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades found that while smoking has declined significantly among youths, nearly 1 in 5 tenth-graders said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days; and 13 percent of 10th graders who do not smoke reported using e-cigarettes in the same period. For youths, e-cigarettes are not a method for quitting smoking but an introduction to it.
When legislation wheezed last year in the Legislature, the Snohomish Health District undertook the effort to pass its own ordinance in November that bans the use of e-cigarettes in public places, including restaurants, bars and places of employment; prohibited the sale to and use of vaping devices by minors; and established permits and other rules for the retail sale of e-cigarettes and vaping products.
The state now seems poised to pass its own rules for the sale and use of vaping products. The Senate on Monday passed legislation, Senate Bill 6328, that will bring the devices’ retail sale under the supervision of the state Liquor and Cannabis Board, setting up a licensing system that will allow the state to track the sale and origin of the devices and the liquids they use.
The bill also would require child-resistent packaging and warning labels, would require the nicotine content to be listed on packaging, prohibit their sale to those younger than 18, require sellers to verify the age of purchasers as they must for cigarettes, and ban the use of vaping devices in parks, school yards and other areas where children are typically present.
Opposition to the Senate bill during committee hearings came from those that believed the legislation didn’t go far enough to prevent youth access and was too accommodating to use in public places.
The bill also would overturn the provisions in the ordinance adopted in Snohomish County and by other local agencies elsewhere in the state, in relation to the licensing of retail shops selling e-cigarette, which means the Snohomish Health District won’t be allowed to collect revenue from retail permit fees. The state law also would pre-empt the county’s stronger language barring the use of vaping products in public.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who sponsored similar legislation in the House that was later rolled into the Senate version, called the Senate bill “an important step in protecting our kids from a largely unregulated industry.”
The bill, Ferguson’s office said in a release, increases the fines for selling vaping products to children and doubles the fines for illegal sales of tobacco to minors. And the legislation, through its license fees, will triple the revenue going to the Liquor and Cannabis Board for tobacco and e-cigarette product enforcement and will triple the money available for youth prevention education.
Now in the House, the bill could be amended to make its protections stronger. The Snohomish Health District and other agencies that acted ahead of the Legislature should be allowed to at least keep their stronger bans against vaping in public. But rather than risk losing the protections to children the legislation can provide statewide, the bill should be passed.
Vaping, regardless of whether it’s used to help a smoker quit or for its own enjoyment, is an adult activity and one that cannot be left under-regulated.
Young children have to be better protected from accidental ingestion of the vaping liquid, and youths have to be discouraged from using a product that puts them at risk for addiction to nicotine.
Update: After The Herald went to press, the House passed the e-cigarette bill late Tuesday night, 74-20. It now goes to the governor for his signature.