By Anna Edlund
E-cigarette use and vaping inside public places, including restaurants and bars, may soon be prohibited as the Whatcom County Health Department gathers feedback for a potential expansion of the Smoking in Public Places law.
The public listening session on e-cigarettes and vaping, held on Thursday, May 19, brought together Whatcom County community members and business owners to voice their opinions on expanding the law to include e-cigarette use and vaping.
Joe Fuller is a program specialist with the Whatcom County Health Department and moderated the event.
“We were hearing a lot from retailers — specifically service industry, bar owners, downtown establishments — that were saying, ‘As a business, we don’t necessarily want it to be on us to say you can’t do that here,’” Fuller said. “If something could be standard, so everybody knew this is what the law is, that would be helpful for them.”
Western senior Holly Young works at a restaurant where she has seen people vape and supports the potential expansion of the Smoking in Public Places law.
“It’s almost the same thing as a nuisance for people,” Young said. “Even if there’s no health effects to secondhand vaping, it’s still a perception issue.”
E-cigarette use in the U.S. has increased over recent years, with 12.6 percent of adults having tried an e-cigarette before and 3.7 percent currently using them, according to 2014 U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention data.
This rise in e-cigarette use is also visible in local youth usage. Although it remains illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18, one in four 12th grade students in Whatcom County have used e-cigarettes in the past month, according to the Whatcom County Health Department. Nationally, 13.4 percent of high schoolers have used an e-cigarette in the past month.
“There’s a debate on certain chemicals in e-cigarettes still that could affect other people.”
Western freshman Ichiro Miyasato
Austin Masters owns retail vape shop Master of Vapors in downtown Bellingham and owns a nation-wide brand of e-liquid called Klassik Vape.
“As far as restaurants, bars and different business entities of that nature go, [vaping policies] should be left up to the business owner,” Masters said. “I know there are a lot of vape-friendly businesses in Whatcom County, but if business owners don’t want [vaping], they can clearly post it and it won’t happen.”
Whatcom Health Department Prevention Coordinator Amy Hockenberry clarified the areas where the law would have jurisdiction, ensuring vape shops would still be allowed tastings in their stores.
“Smoking in public places includes all workplaces, restaurants bars, bowling alleys and non-tribal casinos,” Hockenberry said.
Concerns brought up during the listening session included the use of vaporizers to smoke marijuana, the health of individuals who may be elderly or asthmatic and the potential appeal to minors.
Western freshman Ichiro Miyasato supports the motion to ban vape use indoors.
“There’s a debate on certain chemicals in e-cigarettes still that could affect other people,” Miyasato said. “When it’s breathed secondhand, as well.”
The Food and Drug Administration does not currently regulate ingredients or safety claims made by e-liquid manufacturers. These manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients and chemicals in their products, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The county does not have the jurisdiction to regulate many aspects of the vaping industry, including fees and licensing, sales requirements, use restrictions and the packaging and labelling of products, Fuller said. These may be dealt with by the Liquor and Cannabis Board or are not formally regulated.
The county does maintain jurisdiction over expanding the Smoking in Public Places act, and anywhere children congregate, such as parks.
With the comments gathered from the listening session, the next step for the Health Department will be to compile them alongside various survey results. This information will then be presented to the Public Health Advisory Board, which will make a recommendation for the Whatcom County Board of Health — or the full county council.