MOSES LAKE - Grant County Health District officials have taken a stance on the use of electronic cigarettes, adopting a new policy that among other things will ban their use in public places and their sale to minors.
The district has been considering adopting a countywide policy that would set restrictions on the sale, use and availability of e-cigarettes and related products since earlier this year. They were specifically concerned with youth access to vapor devices and e-liquids as well as bystander exposure to second hand vapors.
"Electronic vapor devices have a strong appeal to youth due to their high technology design and availability in child-friendly flavors," read the policy. "They also represent a substantial risk of nicotine addiction and resultant harm to public health and safety."
The document goes on to state that the use of e-cigarettes in public places could increase social acceptance of smoking and renormalize, "publicly inhaling nicotine which is contrary to public health efforts of the past 50 years."
Those concerns were addressed in the new policy, which was unanimously adopted by the county Board of Health during a recent meeting.
The policy, which goes into effect Jan. 1, restricts the sale and distribution of electronic vapor devices and e-liquid (with or without nicotine) to those age 18 and older.
Under the policy, retailers will have to post a sign that states sales to youth are prohibited. Products must also be stored behind a counter or in a locked cabinet.
In addition, sales from vending machines in places minors are present are prohibited.
The new policy also mirrors the current Smoking in Public Places law, essentially banning the use of e-cigarettes in the same places traditional cigarettes are not allowed. The law, passed by state voters in 2005, prohibits smoking in public places such as bars, restaurants, bowling centers, skating rinks and non-tribal casinos.
The definition of "public place" also includes private residences used to provide childcare, foster care or similar social services and at least 75 percent of sleeping quarters in a hotel. The Smoking in Public Places law prohibits smoking within 25 feet of entrances, exits and windows that open in areas where smoking is prohibited.
The exception to the rule under the Grant County policy is vape shops or shops that only sell vapor devices and e-liquids and that also prohibit minors from entering.
Violating the policy can come with a civil penalty of $100 for each violation.
Health district spokesperson Theresa Adkinson said it isn't unusual for an agency or even a city to adopt an e-cigarette policy, as there are currently no state regulation 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.
Major cities including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia have also placed various restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes over the past few years.
In Washington, only King and Pierce counties and the city of Pasco have adopted e-cigarette policies, said Adkinson. Grant County is not included in that list with the newly adopted ordinance, she said.
Over the next few months, she said the district will work with retailers to bring them up to speed on the new policy and give them the tools they need to be compliant when it takes effect next year.
"There's going to be a lot of education happening, this is not about us enforcing something as much as it is about education," said Adkinson.