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Council bans vaping in bars, restaurants throughout Whatcom County

Cooper Lariviere, left, takes a break with his friend Bre Christy, who was vaping in downtown Bellingham Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016.
Cooper Lariviere, left, takes a break with his friend Bre Christy, who was vaping in downtown Bellingham Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Vaping, like smoking, no longer will be allowed in bars, restaurants and other public places throughout Whatcom County starting in November.

In its capacity as the Health Board, the County Council unanimously approved the ban on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The ban, which begins in 30 days, will apply to all jurisdictions in Whatcom County, including its cities.

The restriction expands the Smoking in Public Places Law to include vaping. It puts the use of electronic cigarettes in the same category as traditional cigarettes, which can’t be smoked in public places including workplaces, bars, restaurants, non-tribal casinos and bowling alleys.

That means vaping within 25 feet of the doors and windows of public places or businesses also will be prohibited.

County Council member Rud Browne, a former smoker, enthusiastically supported the new regulations.

“I think at this stage in our civilization it’s absurd that we don’t do more to discourage the uses of tobacco and cigarettes, particularly amongst minors,” Browne said Tuesday. “All I can say is if the council allowed me two votes on this one tonight, I’d use both of them in support of this ordinance.”

E-cigarettes are battery-operated metal or plastic tubes that have a cartridge filled with liquid containing nicotine, flavoring, solvents and other chemicals that are heated until the liquid turns into a vapor, which is then inhaled.

Public health officials have said the ban was needed for reasons that included increased use by youths, and concern over health risks related to nicotine addiction and exposure to secondhand chemicals for those not vaping.

The new rules are being put into place because public health officials are concerned about the sharp increase in youth use of e-cigarettes. In Whatcom County, vaping among teens is double that of smoking.

Those who spoke during the public hearing on Tuesday prior to the council vote urged approval. They include students from the Health Alliance at Squalicum High School who said they didn’t want to be exposed to secondhand vapor from e-cigarettes and noted the increase in youth use that correlated with an increase in product advertising.

The countywide measure is the latest rule for the e-cigarette industry, which had been largely unregulated until recently.

In November 2015, Bellingham banned smoking and vaping in any city park, trail or open space over concerns about the impact of secondhand smoke.

A new state law signed in April by Gov. Jay Inslee banned the use of vapor products in schools, day care centers, elevators and school buses. It also increased state enforcement to prevent sales to minors as well as require child-proof packaging and disclosure of how much nicotine is in liquid nicotine bottles.

It gives local health boards the power to further restrict vaping indoors.

State law still allows e-cigarette retailers to let customers sample products in licensed stores. The county’s ban won’t affect this provision.

In May, the federal Food and Drug Administration announced it will, for the first time, require review of e-cigarettes and their ingredients.

The new rules are being put into place because public health officials are concerned about the sharp increase in youth use of e-cigarettes nationally, statewide and locally. They’re also worried that e-cigarettes, also called vape pens, are being used to smoke other drugs, including marijuana. (While recreational marijuana is legal in Washington state, it isn’t for minors, nor can pot be used in public.)

At the county level, vaping among Whatcom teens is double that of smoking, even though e-cigarettes also can’t be sold to those younger than 18 in Washington state.

Countywide, more than 9 percent of eighth-graders, nearly 19 percent of 10th-graders and 26 percent of 12th-graders who were surveyed said they have used e-cigs, according to the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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