Sale of electronic cigarettes to minors may be banned in much of Spokane County.
County commissioners scheduled a public hearing Feb. 8 on a Spokane Regional Health District proposal that’s also on Spokane and Spokane Valley council agendas.
Spokane may take action on Feb. 7; Spokane Valley, on Feb. 22.
The measure also would prohibit people younger than 18 from purchasing or possessing the artificial cigarettes.
Violation would be a civil infraction, punishable by $513 in penalties for sales and $103 for purchase or possession.
County Commissioner Mark Richard said he proposed the legislation at a health district meeting in part because he lost his mother to tobacco-related emphysema.
“I believe it is a senseless, horrific cause of death,” he said.
Although they are sometimes advertised as a means to avoid the cancer-causing elements of real cigarettes, Richard believes e-cigarettes may lead teens to the real thing.
“They become interchangeable because they are serving the same addiction,” Richard said.
The cigarette look-alikes are electronic devices that vaporize vials containing nicotine.
Some studies indicate nicotine is more addictive than heroin or cocaine, according to Christopher Zilar, manager of the health district’s tobacco prevention and control program.
It seems “unwise” to allow youths to become addicted to a drug that otherwise wouldn’t be legally available to them, Zilar said.
Richard said he believes the unregulated cigarette substitutes are being marketed to children with “attractive designs and enticing flavors like strawberry and bubblegum.”
Zilar said shopkeepers who offer e-cigarettes in Spokane County told health officials they wouldn’t sell to minors, but they all did.
Two 15- and 16-year-old undercover agents found it “extremely easy” to buy e-cigarettes, Zilar said.
He said prices vary from about $15 for “throw-away” models to as much as $150.
Even if nicotine alone doesn’t cause cancer, too much of it can be fatal, and there’s no way to know how much nicotine – or anything else – is in an e-cigarette vial, Zilar said. That’s because the products aren’t required to meet any standards or undergo any testing.
“Some of them look like they were produced in somebody’s garage,” Richard said.
Zilar said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may eventually regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, but federal courts have said they aren’t subject to pharmaceutical controls.
He said the King County health district recently used its authority to declare that e-cigarettes are subject to the same rules as real smokes.