A customer tries several e-cigarette flavors at an Olympia vapor cafe. Pierce County is considering banning e-cigarettes in places of employment and in adult establishments such as bars. Steve Bloom Staff file, 2012
A customer tries several e-cigarette flavors at an Olympia vapor cafe. Pierce County is considering banning e-cigarettes in places of employment and in adult establishments such as bars. Steve Bloom Staff file, 2012

Crime

Health board considers regulating e-cigarettes like tobacco in Pierce County

By Alexis Krell

Staff writer

September 20, 2015 03:04 PM

E-cigarettes would be treated like their tobacco counterparts in Pierce County under a proposal being considered by the local health board.

“While some folks might think that e-cigarettes are harmless or much less harmful than tobacco products, because of the nicotine in it there’s a good chance they’ll develop a nicotine addiction and then start using tobacco,” said Frank DiBiase, head of the Environmental Health Division for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Changes being considered to the Pierce County Environmental Health Code would ban the e-cigarettes in places of employment and in adult establishments, such as bars — like regular smokes. E-cigarette users would need to be at least 25 feet from entrances to buildings, just as if they were smoking tobacco.

The electronic devices, which deliver nicotine in the form of vapor, already are restricted in other public places.

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“What we’re trying to do is align e-cigarette policies with tobacco policies that we have,” said Rick Talbert, a Pierce County councilman and vice president of the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health.

The proposal effectively would end sampling in e-cigarette shops.

Businesses also would be required to get a special permit, which the Health Department estimates will cost $330 to $400 annually, to sell the devices.

“What I’ve been most interested in is making sure that we’re keeping these products out of the hands of youth, and that they’re not being subjected to encouraged use through advertising and easy access to the product,” Talbert said.

The changes would prohibit minors from possessing the devices. They can’t be sold to minors now, but possession isn’t banned yet, as it is with tobacco.

That makes it hard for schools to keep them off-campus, according to the Health Department.

“Prohibiting possession makes it easier for them to manage it,” DiBiase said. “With adolescent brain development, there’s clear research that shows nicotine adversely affects brain development and cognitive function of adolescent brains.”

He said an estimated 5 percent of Pierce County 10th graders had used e-cigarettes in 2012, growing to 20 percent in 2014.

Asked about effects the changes might have on people who have used e-cigarettes to stop smoking tobacco, DiBiase said: “If you believe e-cigarettes may be a way to help you get off of nicotine all together, there’s support for that. There are probably more effective methods.”

Several e-cigarette shop proprietors contacted by The News Tribune weren’t immediately available for comment.

Talbert noted that the changes wouldn’t limit access for adult users.

Some in the restaurant and bar industry have showed support for the changes because customers don’t want them inside the businesses, Talbert said.

“There certainly was hope that these products were going to be really good cessation products for people looking to transition off of tobacco,” he said.

“For the most part these are products that have taken the place of traditional tobacco. There may be evidence that these are better for you, but the reality is, it’s still just a device that it’s main purpose is the delivery of nicotine.”

The board will take public comment Wednesday and might vote on the changes Nov. 18, DiBiase said.

For more information

A public meeting to comment and learn about the proposed e-cigarette regulations is set for 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday in the Health Department auditorium at 3629 S. D St.

People who can’t attend can email comments by 4:30 p.m. Oct. 19 to director@tpchd.org, or mail them to Anthony L-T Chen, Director of Health, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, 3629 S. D St., Tacoma, WA 98418.

Questions can be called in to 253-798-2899.