Grant County prohibits use of e-cigs in public places
EPHRATA — “Smokeless” smokers beware: If you live in Grant County, your favorite bar or restaurant can no longer let you take a quick puff off your e-cigarette.
And if you’re under 18, you can’t walk into a vape shop, or purchase an electronic vapor device — even those without nicotine.
The Grant County Health District adopted an ordinance in September that regulates electronic cigarettes with stricter standards than the state or federal governments. The ordinance went into effect on Thursday.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery-powered devices that provide doses of nicotine and other additives in an aerosol or vapor, and are largely unregulated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New studies suggest that more middle and high school students are trying electronic cigarettes, which can eventually lead to the use of conventional cigarettes, the agency says.
In September, the CDC reported 10 percent of middle and high school students have tried e-cigarettes, showing a dramatic increase between 2011 and 2012. Nationwide, more than a quarter of a million students who had never smoked a conventional cigarette used electronic cigarettes in 2013.
Grant County’s decision to regulate the devices comes on the heels of ordinances in King and Pierce counties, but before the state Legislature has taken a look at the matter, said Theresa Adkinson spokeswoman for the Grant County Health District.
“This wasn’t an easy decision,” she said. “But we’ve been studying this for quite some time. Our primary responsibility is to the public’s health.”
Adkinson said the health district worked with medical practitioners, tobacco prevention groups in Quincy and Moses Lake, and owners of stores that sell the devices before writing and adopting its ordinance.
The restriction on sales was included because of the increase nationally in use by youth, and because nicotine in all forms is highly addictive and not healthy, she said. County-by-county numbers on youth who’ve tried e-cigarettes are not yet available, but Grant County is on par with the state average for youth who smoke conventional cigarettes, she said.
The district also opted to prohibit use of e-cigarettes in public places under the same restrictions as other forms of smoking — except for so-called “vape” shops, where e-cigarettes are sold. Adkinson said shop owners were involved in the discussions, which ended up allowing sampling inside the shop as long as minors are not allowed in their stores.
She said air quality is the main reason for prohibiting use in public places. “These e-juices are not regulated in any way, so we have no clue what is being vaped,” she said. Some studies have shown that in addition to residue nicotine, metals and other possibly harmful substances are in the second-hand mist that’s exhaled by e-smokers.
“There’s a misconception that it’s safe, and it’s just water,” she said.
The new ordinance also helps establishments, like restaurants, that were trying to figure out whether they should allow use of e-cigarettes, she said. Some had already banned them due to complaints from other customers.
Adkinson said more than 90 percent of retailers who sell tobacco now also sell electronic cigarettes.
All stores that sell the electronic vapor devices and e-liquid — which is used to replenish the cigarettes — are also required to display a sign saying sales are prohibited to youth under 18. They must also keep those products behind the counter or in a locked cabinet, and cannot sell them in vending machines where minors can go. Minors cannot buy, possess or obtain them.
Adkinson said the health district is not getting into the debate about whether e-cigarettes are safer than conventional smoking, or whether it can be used to help people quit smoking combustible cigarettes.
She as the lead agency for an 11-county tobacco prevention group, Grant County has been sharing its presentations and literature with other counties, including Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties, which are also looking at the issue.
— By K.C. Mehaffey, Wenatchee World