In addition to a permanent ban on flavored vaping products, Inslee will propose legislation next month that would eliminate bulk sales and cap nicotine levels in noncannabis vaping products, said Sheri Sawyer, one of Inslee’s senior policy advisers. It would also grant the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board the authority to seize illegal products, and allow the state health secretary to issue emergency bans on certain products or chemicals.
The plan is one of the latest in a yearslong push by some state lawmakers to pass tougher regulations on the vaping industry, whose biggest players are taking national and local heat for marketing their products — many of which deliver more nicotine than cigarettes — to young people. Legislation would try to limit the percentage of nicotine in vapes to those found in cigarettes, about 2%. Juul’s products, which are popular with teens, contain 5% nicotine.
The next legislative session, which begins in January, will be the first since the onset of a nationwide outbreak in vaping-related illnesses and deaths, many of which involve teens.
Between 2016 and 2018, the number of Washington students who reported that they vape surged by 20%, according to the state’s Healthy Youth Survey. At the same time, state and federal funding for substance-abuse programs in schools has dwindled, The Seattle Times reported. Relatively odorless and designed to be discreet, the devices — loaded with cartridges that contain a concentrated amount of THC or nicotine — can easily fly under the radar of unsuspecting parents or teachers.
Sawyer said the Liquor and Cannabis Board is working on a separate piece of legislation that will address regulation and flavoring in vapes that contain THC. The cannabis industry already has many regulations in place, Sawyer said, and the cannabis-specific proposal would focus more on restricting synthetic or artificial flavors. (Some plants have their own natural flavoring.)
A September analysis from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) found “strong evidence” that prohibiting sale of flavored vapes would “likely decrease” use among kids. Juul, the company facing lawsuits from Seattle, La Conner and many other school districts across the country, recently pulled its flavored products.
Forty-seven deaths and nearly 2,300 lung injuries have been linked to vaping and e-cigarette use nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; people younger than 25 make up about 53% of those injuries, with 15% being younger than 18. In Washington, 19 cases of illness have been tied to vaping since April, about a third involving patients between 10 and 19 years old. Preliminary research suggests some chemicals found in vapor products might be to blame.
The emergency ban, which just survived a legal challenge, and other efforts to ban flavoring products over the years have produced considerable uproar. Former smokers say that flavored products helped them quit cigarettes, which have more harmful chemicals.
Donna Janovitch, who co-owns Electric Cloud vapor shop in Kennewick with her husband, says the ban has cost her business between $75,000 to $100,000 and two employees. Flavored products make up most of her stock.
“We’ve lost all of our retirement money,” she said.
She said her shop doesn’t sell Juul products because she thinks the chemicals in them are harmful. To prevent young people from getting their hands on vapes, she said the state should toughen restrictions on vapor products in grocery and convenience stories, which she said are more lax about checking ID.
“Look — I don’t want youth vaping,” said Janovitch, a former school principal. “Our intent was to help people in recovery from smoking. How long we’re gonna last, we don’t know.”
State Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, who will sponsor the governor’s bill, has been one of the Legislature’s most vocal vaping critics since 2013, when he noticed his kids’ friends picking up the habit. Since then, he’s introduced a number of unsuccessful bills to ban flavored products, which has earned him the ire of vaping supporters and shop owners.
A video posted to Facebook shows a man, presumably a shop owner, yelling at Pollet after the state Board of Health meeting where the emergency ban was approved.
“You are the lowest scum of the Earth,” said the man. “People are gonna start smoking again because of you.”
In an interview last week, Pollet had strong words for the vaping industry.
“There’s no way that these stores would be supported just by adult smokers without attracting new people to vaping,” he said. These companies have “all made a decision to be the purveyors of addiction to young people.”
There appears to be at least some bipartisan desire for tighter control of the industry to curb teen vaping. State Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said that although he was initially skeptical, he would now support a permanent ban on flavored products after seeing recent headlines. State Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said the idea seemed “good on the surface,” but he’d like to see more details.
The state has not done an economic analysis on the impact of a flavored-vape ban. Sawyer said she’s already heard about some shops closing because of the temporary prohibition. At the very least, it would mean that the state couldn’t collect as much revenue from its new tax on vaping products.