Like to vape while you’re enjoying a drink in a bar? That soon could be a thing of the past throughout Whatcom County.
That’s because a proposal to ban the use of vapor products, also known as electronic cigarettes, in certain places will go before the County Council in September.
If approved by the council in its capacity as the Health Board, the measure would expand the Smoking in Public Places law to include vaping. The ban would apply to all jurisdictions in Whatcom County, including its cities.
The restriction would put the use of e-cigarettes, called vaping, in the same category as traditional cigarettes, which can’t be smoked in public places including indoor workplaces, bars, restaurants, non-tribal casinos and bowling alleys. Vaping within 25 feet of the doors and windows of public places or businesses also would be prohibited.
Council members received information on the issue at their meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9, when public health officials said the ban was needed for reasons that included increased use by youth and health risks.
“I can’t really express my enthusiasm for this adequately. As a former smoker I’m very keen to see children in particular prevented from trying this stuff,” council member Rud Browne said.
Whatcom County residents who were surveyed seemed to like the idea as well.
About 72 percent said they supported the proposed ban, according to a Whatcom County Health Department survey in April that had 613 responses.
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.
How e-cigarettes affect health in the long term isn’t known, but public health officials said they do know that using nicotine when you’re young could harm brain development and develop addiction to the substance.
If approved, the county measure would be the latest in rules for the e-cigarette industry, which had been largely unregulated until recently.
In November, Bellingham banned smoking and vaping in any city park, trail or open space over concerns about the impact of secondhand smoke.
A new Washington state law 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 and required child-proof packaging and disclosure of how much nicotine is in liquid nicotine bottles.
What’s more, it gave local health boards the power to further restrict vaping indoors, which is what Whatcom County is proposing.
The new state law, most of which took effect June 28, still would allow e-cigarette retailers to let customers sample in licensed stores. The county’s ban, should it be enacted, wouldn’t affect this provision.
Earlier in May, the federal Food and Drug Administration announced it would, for the first time, require review of e-cigarettes and their ingredients.
Not all employers are waiting for the council’s decision.
Medical provider PeaceHealth has banned e-cigarette use on its premises since 2014, expanding its 14-year-old restrictions on tobacco to include vaping.
“It is a nicotine product. It’s mixed with a number of other flavorings, colorings and chemicals. In that vein, until we know more or know better, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Dr. Ken Bachenberg, PeaceHealth St. Joseph’s chief medical officer and patient safety officer.
New rules are being considered or 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, 14 percent of 12th-graders reported smoking traditional cigarettes, while 26 percent said they used e-cigarettes, the County Council was told.
“We have a higher percentage of kids that are vaping that have never smoked,” said Joe Fuller, program specialist for the Whatcom County Health Department. “What we know is once kids start vaping, their risks for using combustible (traditional) cigarettes go up.”
The County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ban on Sept. 27.