OLYMPIA — Middle and high-school students joined administrators, parents and doctors Wednesday in urging a state Senate committee to pass severe restrictions on nicotine vaping products, decrying how some of their peers leave class to vape in the bathroom or even use the products during class by exhaling into their sleeve.
Washington adopted a temporary ban on flavored e-cigarette juice in October as the nation grappled with a mysterious, sometimes fatal lung illness that appeared linked to vaping. Since then, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has said that the outbreak appears to have been linked mostly to vitamin E acetate in vaping products containing THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis.
The bill considered by the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee on Wednesday would make the flavor ban permanent, while also limiting the nicotine content and size of each vaping juice cartridge. Manufacturers of vapor products in the state would have to obtain a license from the Liquor and Cannabis Board and would have to submit an ingredient list to the Department of Health.
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee requested the legislation. Supporters said there is too little evidence about whether e-cigarettes really help adults quit cancer-causing tobacco cigarettes, but there is evidence of an epidemic of teen vaping. Nearly one-third of high-school students in Washington vape, they said, with risks for their lungs, brain development, attention levels and behavior.
“It’s a public health crisis that is affecting our youth,” said Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue. “The evidence is clear. It’s flavored vapor products that are the hooks used to reel the youth in.”
Marty Reid, the assistant principal at Tumwater High School, told the committee his school simply doesn’t have the resources to monitor or deter the amount of vaping that occurs in school bathrooms.
Sophie Harrison, a student at Hamilton Middle School in Seattle, said someone had scratched off a girls bathroom sign and replaced it with the words “Juul room.”
Opponents of the bill, including vape shop owners and manufacturers of vaping products, said the legislation was the result of hysteria surrounding the lung-illness outbreak. The temporary ban had already forced many vape shops to close, costing jobs, while doing little to limit the availability of the products, which can be purchased online.
Further, they said, it could actually hurt public health: The national health system in the United Kingdom has found vaping to carry a mere fraction of the risk of traditional tobacco cigarettes and that it helps thousands of adults quit smoking. Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control continues to say that “e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit adult smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products,” they noted.
Shaun D’Sylva, who owns four stores, called the legislation “the biggest gift you possibly could give to Big Tobacco.”
When Washington teens were asked in a state survey why they were using e-cigarettes, D’Sylva said, flavors was cited as the third-most common reason — behind the first place answer, “curiosity,” he said.
“Are we going to ban curiosity?” he asked.