MOSES LAKE - A countywide public health ordinance concerning electronic cigarettes could be in place by the end of this year.
Grant County Health District officials are currently working on drafting a sample policy that would set restrictions on the sale, use and availability of e-cigarettes and other unregulated nicotine delivery products. The draft policy will be discussed during the district's July board meeting.
Grant County's policy will likely include elements of the policies adopted by the Boards of Health in King and Pierce counties - documents the health district examined during their most recent meeting.
Theresa Adkinson, of the health district, said the two policies essentially treat e-cigarettes like traditional cigarettes as far as where they can be used.
"They're mirroring the current smoking in public places law," she said. "Vaping devices do not fall under that since they're not a combustible product, so now communities are addressing them individually."
The King County policy, which took effect in November, covers devices, cartridges and products that contain nicotine. Under the policy, free samples are prohibited, sales cannot take place in locations accessible to minors and products cannot be used in public places or places of employment.
Penalties for violating the policy are determined using a scale.
In Pierce County, free samples can only be given out at stores that exclusively sell electronic smoking devices. The use of e-cigarettes is also prohibited in public places or places of employment, however, owners may allow them to be used in workplaces that are not public places or places minors can visit.
Violating the policy in Pierce County comes with a civil penalty of up to $100 and a re-inspection fee.
Adkinson said the district wanted to adopt a policy for Grant County because there are currently no state regulations regarding the use of e-cigarettes.
Only three states - New Jersey, North Dakota and Utah - have enacted laws prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes everywhere that smoking is already banned.
A handful of other states, including Oregon, Maryland and Arkansas, have limited laws that ban the use of e-cigarettes in places like schools and government buildings.
However, there are no laws restricting the use of e-cigarettes in Washington.
"There is currently no state rule that prohibits you from using these devices in public," she said. "We have folks using them in our grocery stores, on our campuses and in our parks so how do we address that issue?"
If the health district adopts an ordinance, Grant County will follow King and Pierce counties in becoming one of the many municipalities around the nation that have adopted e-cigarette regulations in the absence of any state rules.
Major cities including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia have all placed various restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes over the past few years.
Adkinson said the district is concerned about the public health effect of e-cigarettes being used in public places because so little is known about the vapor emitted from them.
"There is a misconception out there that it's just water and it's not harmful, but we don't really know," she said. "There's a lot of science that needs to be sorted out so when you're walking through someone's vape cloud I can't tell you as a public health practitioner if it's safe for you or not."
Adkinson said youth access to e-cigarettes is also a major concern for the district. With no current rules prohibiting their use in public, e-cigarettes and vaping devices are becoming more and more commonplace, she said.
"We're re-normalizing a smoking habit," Adkinson said. "We removed it from our schools, we removed it from all these environments and now there's this new, edgy product out there."
She said adopting an e-cigarette policy for the county would help the health district address some of their concerns.
"What is the exposure for our public and where do we want to go for Grant County?" Adkinson questioned. "We are getting asked about this, people are concerned and wanting to know what our position is, which is why we are starting this conversation."