County Proposes Ban on Public Use of E-Cigarettes

King County, Washington, is proposing a ban on use of e-cigarettes in public places, in part because their use makes it difficult to enforce existing anti-smoking regulations, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Dec. 14. 

The state's existing ban on public cigarette smoking was designed to limit second-hand smoke, which the electronic nicotine delivery devices don't emit, although they do release a mist. Because the devices look like real cigarettes, officials are concerned that if other smokers see them being used, they will believe they can smoke regular cigarettes too — leading to more second-hand smoke.

“The idea is that even though they're not exactly identical to cigarettes, people see folks using e-cigarettes, and they think somebody else is smoking,” said Bud Nicola, a professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health and a member of the county's Board of Health.

“It makes it very difficult for inspectors.”

The Board of Health will soon vote on the proposal. If enacted, the regulations would likely be the strictest in the country. Besides banning use of e-cigarettes in public places, the proposal would prohibit free giveaways and heavy discounts on sales, and make it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to youth under 18.

Although e-cigarettes are sometimes advertised as an aid to quitting smoking, many health advocates believe that the devices are aimed at youth. They worry that use of the products will lead teens to take up smoking regular cigarettes. 

“These are something that can potentially get kids hooked on nicotine,” Nicola said. “E-cigarettes have a high appeal to youth. They come in candy flavors.”

Some manufacturers claim that their products don't contain nicotine, but according to the Post-Intelligencer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “says there is no way of knowing that for sure.”

A recent survey of the products by the FDA found that nicotine levels varied markedly, and that e-cigarettes also had other toxins in them. 

Some e-cigarette users objected to the new proposal. Jeff Mauzey, a resident of King County and a long-time smoker, said, “I switched to e-cigs not for health reasons, but because I wanted to smoke with less harm and less impact to those around me.”

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