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Electronic cigarettes likely a smokin’ hot topic at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department meeting at 6 p.m. Monday

Post by Kris Sherman / The News Tribune on May 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm | 20 Comments »
May 15, 2011 2:31 pm

Aficionados of electronic cigarettes – which look like the real thing but create a vapor for users to inhale – plan to tell Health Department officials Monday they don’t want their faux smokes virtually banned in Pierce County.

The Tacoma Pierce-County Health Department proposes new regulations that would treat the e-cigarettes like their tobacco-burning cousins. That means no firing up the battery-powered substitutes in restaurants, bars, workplaces or other spots where the public gather.

A public meeting on the issue is set for 6 p.m. Monday at the Health Department, 3629 S. D St., Tacoma. The Board of Health is not set to take action on the regulations immediately, but a vote could take place next month.

You can read my previous story on the issue here.

Electronic cigarette users like Kim Thompson, owner of The Vaporium in Lakewood, say they’re a great bridge for people trying to quit the nicotine habit. She’s never met a nonsmoker who wanted to buy them, she told The News Tribune earlier this month.

The e-cigarettes use a liquid containing nicotine and an atomizer to give users a bit of the addictive substance as they try to step down from it, Thompson says. They draw on the e-cigarettes as they would a tobacco product, then exhale the vapor. Users don’t call it smoking, they say they’re “vaping.”

The e-smokes also can satisfy the oral cravings and the hand-to-mount habit associated with smoking, says Dick Muri, a Pierce County Council member who chairs the Health Department’s board. Both Muri and Thompson say they think sale of the e-cigarettes should be banned to minors – as the Health Department proposes – but they think the rest of the proposed regulations go too far.

Health Department director Dr. Anthony Chen says the chemicals in e-cigarettes, which use nicotine in liquid form, can be harmful to those who smoke them and those who inhale their vapor. In addition, some health officials worry their use glamorizes smoking for young people. They also contend it could be hard for smokers of tobacco cigarettes and others to know if it’s OK to light up indoors if someone next to them is vaping.

There is disagreement among board members. Muri and Stan Flemming, a Pierce County Council member who’s also a physician, think the regulations need work. There’s not enough information to back a ban on their use in public places, Flemming told The News Tribune this month.

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, also a board member, believes they’re too much like real cigarettes to allow their use in public spaces.

Another regulation under consideration by the department would make it easier to enforce state law on smoking and to collect fines and fees for inspection of premises where violations occur.

Here’s a copy of the Health Department’s news release on the issue:

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is tasked with safeguarding and enhancing the health of the communities of Pierce County. As part of its mission, the Health Department tackles emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the United States and is responsible for one in every five deaths annually. In Pierce County, 17% of adults smoke, representing more than 100,000 of our family members, neighbors, co-workers and friends. Even for individuals who don’t smoke, secondhand smoke poses a serious health risk.

In adults, secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer. For children, secondhand smoke can increase symptoms of asthma, respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome and a number of other health conditions.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has brought forth two proposed regulations that relate to the Health Department’s ongoing work to protect the people of Pierce County from the risks associated with tobacco use. The Board of Health may vote on these regulations at the June 1, 2011 Board of Health meeting and the Health Department is interested in receiving feedback from the community prior to that date.

The two proposed regulations are:

Environmental Health Code, Chapter 8: Smoking in Public Places.

This local regulation provides greater clarity and interpretation of RCW 70.160, Washington State’s Smoking in Public Places law, allows for local enforcement including fees and fines and aids local businesses that wish to comply with the State law. Adopting a local regulation facilitates compliance of the state code.

Review the full regulation.

Environmental Health Code, Chapter 9: Restrictions on Sale, Use and Availability of Electronic Smoking Devices and Unregulated Nicotine Delivery Products.

The proposed regulation prohibits smoking and the purchase of e-cigarettes and other unregulated nicotine delivery products by youth under age 18, disallows e-cigarettes to be used in public places and anywhere that regular cigarettes are prohibited and prohibits free or heavily discounted e-cigarettes

Currently, e-cigarettes are unregulated in the United States. They contain varying levels of nicotine and other known carcinogens and toxic chemicals. The FDA recently announced that it intends to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product and not an approved cessation aid.

Review the full regulation.

Public Meeting

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department will host a public meeting to preview and receive public feedback regarding the two regulations. The meeting will include a brief presentation of the proposed regulations, followed by and an opportunity for attendees to provide brief comment.

Monday, May 16, 2011
6:00-7:00 PM

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Auditorium
3629 South D Street
Tacoma, WA 98418

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