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Spokane City Council blocks sale of e-cigs to minors

Minors no longer are allowed to buy electronic cigarettes in Spokane.

The Spokane City Council on Monday voted unanimously to outlaw the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.

Electronic cigarettes allow users to inhale nicotine through vapor instead of smoke.

Public health officials have warned that there are few regulations governing electronic cigarettes and that there’s little unbiased research about their effects.

“What we do know is that nicotine is a highly addictive substance,” said Christopher Zilar, program manager of tobacco prevention and control for the Spokane Regional Health District. “Because of its addictive nature, we think it’s important to protect youth from having access to it.”

The district is working with local governments to pass laws barring the sale of electronic cigarettes to kids. The Spokane County Commission is scheduled to consider similar rules at a hearing today. Spokane Valley will consider rules later this month.

There was little controversy at Monday’s meeting about the proposal. Even representatives of electronic cigarette businesses, the Vapor Lounge and Smart Smoke, testified that they supported regulations on the sale to minors. Even so, those businesses and some users of electronic cigarettes, including City Council candidate Donna McKereghan, said they worried that the products were being unfairly tarnished in the debate.

“My mother had smoked for 50 years and with this product has quit,” said Carol Cavette, who lives in north Spokane. “There’s been a lot of knee-jerk reaction.”

Ronell Routon, sales and marketing director for Smart Smoke, which has five stores in Spokane County and one in Kootenai County, said the business won’t sell to nonsmokers or to minors.

“The purpose is to help smokers find a smarter alternative to tobacco,” Routon said.

Last summer, health district officials sponsored an undercover operation to find out how strict electronic cigarette businesses were about selling to kids. In 31 attempts, stores sold electronic cigarettes to minors 28 times, Zilar said. Only once was a minor refused. In two cases the district opted to stop the operation because they felt the environment was not safe for minors, Zilar said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate electronic cigarettes but has issued several concerns about the product.

“When FDA conducted limited laboratory studies of certain samples, FDA found significant quality issues that indicate that quality control processes used to manufacture these products are substandard or nonexistent,” according to an FDA website.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said she will sign the legislation. Sellers caught breaking the law will be subject to a $250 civil infraction. Minors caught buying electronic cigarettes will face a $50 fine.

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