Banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors was personal for Spokane County commissioners Tuesday.
Each reached into his past for an explanation of the unanimous vote to stop anyone younger than 18 from purchasing or possessing the unregulated cigarette substitutes.
So-called “e-cigarettes” vaporize a small vial of nicotine without other toxic substances found in cigarettes.
When the ordinance takes effect March 31, selling e-cigarettes to minors in unincorporated areas will be punishable by $513 in penalties.
Penalties for being a minor in possession will total $103.
The Spokane City Council passed a similar ordinance Monday, and the Spokane Valley City Council will consider the Spokane Regional Health District proposal on Feb. 22.
Commissioner Mark Richard noted that nicotine creates the addiction that keeps people smoking.
He reiterated that he lost his mother to cigarette-caused emphysema.
“It’s a horrific, horrific death that I wouldn’t wish on anybody,” he said.
“I grew up, literally, in a cloud of smoke as a young adult without the ability to make a choice.”
He said he was the only one of seven siblings “that somehow avoided the addiction.” One of the reasons he ran for office was to “try to make our community safer and better for youth,” Richard said.
Commissioner Al French said his father needed only one match to smoke all day long.
“I watched him die a slow and painful death from emphysema,” French said.
It was the same with his mother-in-law, he said.
“I’ve never smoked in my life, but as a youth the only way I could get a breath of fresh air was to go outside,” French said.
“So anything that would prevent another youth from having to grow up in that environment, I’m all in favor of.”
Commissioner Todd Mielke said he also has never smoked, but he has been a tobacco industry lobbyist.
Mielke said he was hired because he previously worked for a pharmaceutical company that sold smoking-cessation products. Tobacco companies wanted to make sure they complied with terms of a government settlement, he said.
He said he views the e-cigarette ordinance as a continuation of his settlement-compliance work to keep young people from smoking.
In another seeming irony, a company with five e-cigarette shops in Spokane County endorsed the ordinance.
Ronell Routon, sales and marketing director for Smart Smoke, said some of the company’s shops were caught in a health district sting in which 15- and 16-year-old undercover agents were able to buy e-cigarettes in 28 of 31 attempts.
Routon said the offending employees have been dismissed and the company has beefed up its efforts to prevent sales to minors.
She said the company tries to sell only to adult smokers who can use e-cigarettes to reduce their health risk or to quit smoking by gradually dialing down the nicotine they inhale.
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