Act to protect youth from e-cigarettes

A smoker demonstrates an e-cigarette, which could be regulated under new rules to be considered Nov. 18 by the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health.
A smoker demonstrates an e-cigarette, which could be regulated under new rules to be considered Nov. 18 by the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health. Associated Press file, 2014

Given a choice between smoking tobacco or vaping, the lesser of two evils would be vaping – or inhaling nicotine-infused liquid through an electronic cigarette.

There’s some evidence that vaping can help some cigarette smokers quit their habit. And at least vapers aren’t taking hot smoke into their lungs as they inhale “e-juice,” significantly decreasing their risk of lung cancer and respiratory disease. That’s all good, but vapers are still inhaling substances that very little research has been conducted on. They’re also feeding a nicotine addiction or, health experts fear, beginning one if the vaper is an adolescent.

Research has determined nicotine can have harmful effects on a young person’s still-developing brain and cognitive function. Unfortunately, even as cigarette smoking rates have been falling in recent years among young people, vaping rates have seen strong growth.

The 2014 Healthy Youth Survey found that one in five Pierce County 10th-graders uses e-cigarettes or vaping products, which is twice as many as those who smoke cigarettes. Health experts fear many young vapers, addicted to nicotine, will eventually switch to more dangerous cigarettes. The tobacco industry, which depends on creating future customers by hooking users before age 18, sees vaping as part of its growth strategy.

Concern over youthful addiction to nicotine is the main impetus behind the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health’s proposed new rules to regulate e-cigarettes, which will be considered later this month. Eleven of 15 school districts in the South Sound have expressed concern over vaping; unlike cigarettes, e-cigarette possession is currently legal for minors, who often bring the devices to school. There’s anecdotal evidence that some students use them to smoke illegal drugs as well as nicotine e-juice.

The health board’s new rules would treat vaping the same as cigarette smoking when it comes to minors, giving an important tool to school authorities concerned about vaping. Possession of e-cigarettes by anyone under 18 would be prohibited, and vaping in public places and worksites would be banned, just like cigarette smoking is. Retailers would need a permit to sell e-cigarettes, and e-liquids – which are potentially fatal if ingested by young children or pets – would require child-proof packaging.

E-liquids come in a variety of colorful vials and often smell like fruit or candy. A teaspoon of e-juice contains about 120 milligrams of nicotine, the equivalent of smoking three packs of cigarettes. Skin contact alone can be poisonous.

The Legislature had an opportunity in the last session to regulate e-cigarettes and failed to due to strong opposition from the vaping industry. The health board should show stronger resolve and protect Pierce County children.