Op-Ed

Limits on e-cigarettes can head off future addictions

Special to The Olympian

February 28, 2016 4:01 PM

There is a window of opportunity to protect the health of our kids that will close if the Legislature doesn’t act quickly. Legislation currently before state lawmakers would help our state take major steps to protect our youths from e-cigarettes.

House Bill 1645 is sponsored by Reps. Gerry Pollet, D-North Seattle, and Paul Harris, R-Vancouver. It would begin to regulate the sale of the myriad of e-cigarette products currently on the market — all of which escape federal consumer protections covering other tobacco products such as combustible cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

The bipartisan legislation would establish fees for licensing retailers that sell e-cigarette products and regulate Internet sales. It also would give local jurisdictions the authority to adopt their own set of electronic cigarette regulations that best fit their residents and communities.

Strong e-cigarette legislation would empower local leaders to take proper steps to protect their communities.

Under HB 1645, stores that sell e-cigarettes would have to sell the products in secured displays similar to all other tobacco products so that kids can’t simply grab them off a store shelf.

Only a store employee would be able to give customers access to these products, which are increasingly manufactured in fruit and candy flavors and packaged so that they are difficult to distinguish from the candy products on nearby shelves.

If the bill is passed, there are many additional benefits. Schools would implement policies prohibiting the use of tobacco products including e-cigarettes on school property and in school vehicles. Additionally, some e-cigarettes would be required to have child-resistant packaging as well as labeling that lists the level of nicotine content.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Washington Department of Health, and the Washington State Medical Association believe it’s a public health priority to prevent our state’s youths from experimenting with nicotine products that can lead to a lifetime of addiction.

An alarming 23 percent of Washington teens report using e-cigarettes. A 2015 Journal of the American Medical Association study found that youth who use e-cigarettes compared to nonusers are more likely to start smoking combustible tobacco products such as cigarettes.

With e-cigarette use increasing at a troubling rate among teens, the concerns from the medical community and the general public are also swelling.

With this momentum, it is critical that our Legislature seize the moment during this session to rein in this largely unregulated — and growing — industry that could hook a whole new generation on nicotine.

Mary McHale is the Washington government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society.

John Wiesman is Washington secretary of health.

Dr. Ray Hsiao is a child psychiatrist and addiction specialist, president of the Washington State Medical Association, and co-director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

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