Proposed restrictions on electronic cigarette use and sales throughout Pierce County over health concerns have drawn dozens of responses since their Sept. 18 introduction by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
About 40 people, mostly e-cigarette store owners and other advocates of “vaping,” turned up at a health department hearing Wednesday night — delayed to account for crawling traffic and road closures related to China President Xi Jinping’s visit to nearby Lincoln High School — to describe their concerns over bringing vapor products into line with Washington’s smoking in public places law.
“Vaping is the cure to smoking that everybody has been trying to get for decades,” said Andy Diamond, who lives in Lakewood and owns an Olympia vapor-products shop.
The Health Department’s proposal would create rules governing e-cigarettes similar to those that curtail cigarette smoking. They include licensing, forbidding minors from possessing vapor products and restricting “vape shops” from allowing anyone to sample products in stores.
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“If you’re in the business of selling tobacco products and you’re also selling vapor products, you’re going to see a very similar set of rules and regulations,” attorney Gregory A. Jacoby, who advises the Health Department’s governing board, told the crowd.
Only one Health Department board member attended the public meeting, but the board is taking written comments until Oct. 19. The wave of comments from those who showed up Wednesday was largely critical of the proposal. As occurred in Olympia in March when the Legislature took comments on e-cigarette legislation, vaping supporters used Twitter and Facebook messages to boost turnout in hopes they could turn back proposed restrictions.
That strategy found success at the state level. Bills backed by Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson to impose rules on vaping never made it to the floor of the House or Senate during this year’s thrice-extended legislative session, though legislators expressed concerns over how e-cigarette sellers had used discounts and giveaways to rally support.
Beyond the Wednesday meeting, Health Department officials have met with approximately 15 organizations about the proposed rules, including youth groups, treatment centers and the vaping industry, spokeswoman Edie Jeffers said. Eleven of 15 school districts contacted by the Health Department listed e-cigarette use as a top concern, Jeffers said. She also said the board expects more public comment on the issue at its Oct. 7 meeting and plans to vote on e-cigarette regulations by Nov. 18.
Roy Braunstein, a self-described “avid vaper” from Tacoma and vapor-products vendor, said the e-cigarette industry has become established enough in Pierce County to withstand restrictions. Like many of the pro-vaping speakers, he criticized the proposal to curb in-store sampling.
“We’re resilient,” he said. “You’re not going to kill us, but you’ll make it hard for us to establish relationships with people who should be vaping instead of smoking.”