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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Vaping should be regulated, taxed

Editorial

Vaping, like smoking, should be regulated and taxed.

A proposed resolution by the Spokane Regional Health District would bring vaping under the Smoking in Public Places law that has controlled tobacco use in Washington for a decade. The SIPP law has significantly curtailed tobacco use, and with it the incidence of diseases such as asthma.

Smoking among high school sophomores has dropped by almost one-half in Washington, although less in Spokane County.

But many who have taken messages about tobacco’s dangers to heart have turned to vaping as an alternative. Vaping heats – not burns – synthetic flavoring using electronic devices like e-cigarettes or hand-held canisters that act like miniature hookahs.

So far, the dangers of vaping are not fully understood, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that inhaling does introduce toxins like formaldehyde into the body, just as smoking does. The vapor also includes nicotine, the addictive ingredient in cigarettes.

Vaping supporters say the ability to control the amount of nicotine in vapor has been a selling point: Smokers can switch to vaping and gradually dial down the nicotine they need.

But the presence of nicotine in exhaled vapor still exposes the public to health risks; to what degree is not clear.

Health district officials fear vaping could “renormalize” tobacco use and its social acceptance after years of alerting the public to its dangers. In 2014, 23 percent of high school seniors said they had vaped within the last 30 days.

To discourage that trend, the health district is following an example set by other Washington counties that have already applied SIPP to vaping. Snohomish and Pierce counties allow vaping where the products are sold but limit consumer sampling: There are hundreds of different vaping devices and flavors.

King County does not allow vaping anywhere indoors – the same ban SIPP imposes on tobacco products. That is the standard proposed in Spokane.

The district notes consumers are not allowed to sample tobacco or marijuana in the store, which is true. But the use of both has been around for hundreds of years. To use, you just set it on fire.

Some accommodation for limited use on store premises might be reasonable as long as anyone younger than 18 years old is excluded, ventilation isolates the store from adjacent businesses and testing like that done on marijuana products is required.

Meanwhile, the industry plans to reintroduce legislation next year that will bring uniformity to vaping regulation statewide.

If that uniformity is advisable, or even it it isn’t, a deal should include the application of some additional tax to vaping products now subject only to sales tax. Legislation that stalled this year would have imposed a tax of 95 percent, which nevertheless would have kept the cost of vaping below that of tobacco, according to its sponsor.

Taxation that high would snuff out many small businesses selling a product almost certainly less dangerous than the alternative: smoking.

Vaping has its place. We should know where, and at what cost, by spring.

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