County Lawmakers Approve E-Cigarette Ban in Washington State

Published November 10, 2016

Lawmakers in Whatcom County, Washington voted to prohibit e-cigarette use on all government-owned property in the county, as well as in privately owned businesses, such as bars, workplaces, and restaurants.

The Whatcom County Council in October expanded the county’s existing restrictions on tobacco use to include e-cigarettes.

Starting on November 10, e-cigarette use was also prohibited within 25 feet of any door or window of any building. Individuals caught violating the ordinance can be fined between $125 and $1,000, with the additional possibility of jail time, depending on past offenses.

Paul Guppy, vice president for research at the Washington Policy Center, says extending tobacco bans to cover e-cigarettes harms consumers and the public.

“The main problem with regulating e-cigarettes and vaping [in the same way as] cigarettes is that regulators fail to recognize the difference between different products and technologies,” Guppy said. “Simply slapping preexisting rules that control a traditional product onto a seemingly related new product stifles innovation and deprives consumers of access to, and the freedom to try, new products.”


Health Risk Confusion

Guppy says science does not support the claim e-cigarette use has serious health risks.

“Studies about potential health hazards are often exaggerated or the science is manipulated by intolerant advocacy groups seeking to ban or socially stigmatize a new product or service,” Guppy said.

Michael Marlow, a professor of economics at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, says current scientific evidence does not support banning public use of e-cigarettes.

“Little to no research exists that substantiates concerns regarding secondhand exposure to e-cigarette vapor,” Marlow said. “Research suggests that e-cigarette use indoors does not expose nonsmokers to tobacco-specific combustion products, which makes sense since e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco. I believe we should carefully examine these issues with appropriate research, so that we do not jeopardize public health by advocating public health policies on the basis of unsubstantiated claims.”


‘Clean Nicotine’

Bans on e-cigarettes are bad for public health, Marlow says.

“Placing e-cigarettes and vaping in the same category as traditional cigarettes harms public health,” Marlow said. “In 2014, the American Medical Association published a ‘Patient Page’ that acknowledged that tobacco products are addictive because of nicotine, but nicotine probably does not contribute nearly as much to smoking-related diseases as tobacco. The article also stated that ‘clean nicotine’ has been a safe way to help people quit smoking for three decades and that e-cigarette vapor is much less toxic than secondhand tobacco smoke.

“Given the growing evidence that e-cigarettes help many smokers reduce or quit smoking tobacco, the new rules thus err on the side of assuming e-cigarettes pose more of a risk than an opportunity to promote public health,” Marlow said.