Commissioners ban sale of e-cigarettes to minors

Clark County ordinance goes into effect today

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: June 22, 2011, 6:26 PM

 

Clark County commissioners, in their role as the Board of Health, passed an ordinance Wednesday banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to people younger than 18.

The ordinance goes into effect today.

E-cigarettes, which often look like regular cigarettes, emit vapor instead of smoke and use batteries instead of a lighter. They do contain nicotine.

According to the ordinance, analysis by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration showed that the product “contained detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals harmful to human health.”

The e-cigarettes, which come in flavors including chocolate and strawberry, are marketed to minors.

John Wiesman, director of Clark County Public Health, had initially asked county commissioners to also ban the use of e-cigarettes by adults in public places, but commissioners thought that was going too far.

As for enforcement, the ordinance says that anyone caught selling e-cigarettes to minors will be given a warning; the second time the seller may be fined up to $100.

Wednesday’s ordinance went beyond e-cigarettes to incorporate a 2005 state law banning smoking in public places.

County Administrator Bill Barron said that no local ordinance was adopted after the Smoking in Public Places law, formerly known as the Washington Clean Indoor Air Act, was enacted.

Having a local ordinance will help enforcement efforts, Wiesman said.

Chairman Tom Mielke objected to a portion of the ordinance that read: “The Board of Health recognizes that exposure to secondhand smoke is known to cause cancer in humans and is a recognized cause of other diseases, including pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis and heart disease. Citizens exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk for developing chronic, potentially fatal diseases as a result of such exposure. Due to the health hazard secondhand smoke poses to those exposed, the Board of Health adopts this ordinance to protect the health, welfare and safety of the public, including workers in their places of employment.”

Mielke said “the jury is still out” on the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Wiesman called on Dr. Alan Melnick, the county’s health officer, to respond.

The jury is in on secondhand smoke, said Melnick, who in addition to being a medical doctor and the county’s health officer is an associate professor for the Department of Family Medicine and the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.

Melnick said there’s extensive research showing the damage caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, and it’s “well-documented in medical literature.”

Mielke, who earlier this year questioned whether nicotine is addictive, said he’s read “on the Internet” conflicting statements about secondhand smoke.

During a March 23 meeting, Mielke said he started smoking at age 15 and quit twice before quitting for good. He said he never went through nicotine withdrawals.

“I had a habit of reaching into my pocket, and I had a habit of putting something in my mouth,” he said. “I always didn’t understand when people said they were addicted to the nicotine portion of it.

“So I really wonder if it’s the nicotine that’s a habit or if it’s a nervous habit,” Mielke said. “I don’t know.”

At that meeting, a public health staff member told Mielke that nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes.

After Mielke and Melnick exchanged opinions on Wednesday, Commissioner Marc Boldt said he believed Melnick.

However, Boldt agreed with Mielke to cut out the offending language because he wanted to pass the ordinance rather than reconsider it at a later date.

Commissioner Steve Stuart was absent.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.