Clean air and healthy lungs are even more important for staying well during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local officials in Thurston County acted to restrict vaping in public spaces to reduce exposure to the many harmful chemicals in vapor, including nicotine and known toxins. Children will be further protected through vaping bans at playgrounds and outdoor areas around schools and child care facilities.
80% of Washingtonians will live in a county where both smoking and vaping are prohibited in indoor public places once the new Thurston ordinance takes effect in 2021. Local No Vaping in Public Places ordinances have now passed in thirteen of Washington’s 39 counties since 2011. Those counties are Clark, Grant, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Kittitas, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, and Whatcom.
Vaping exposes those nearby to an aerosol containing an unknown mixture of harmful and potentially harmful chemicals, including nicotine, known and suspected carcinogens, metals, volatile organic chemicals, and ultrafine particles. A comprehensive research review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found conclusive evidence that vapor products emit these harmful chemicals and that exhaling vapor increases airborne levels of the toxins. Prohibiting vaping in public places similarly to how smoking is prohibited also helps send a clearer public health message to children and youth that both smoking and vaping are unhealthy activities. The U.S. Surgeon General’s 2016 report on the youth vaping epidemic recommends prohibiting vaping in public places as part of a strategy to reduce use among youth and young adults.
Thurston’s Smoking and Vaping in Public Places ordinance passed unanimously on October 13, 2020 and takes effect on January 1, 2021. In brief the ordinance:
- Prohibits smoking and vaping in indoor public places and places of employment, with a sole exception for tastings of vapor products in licensed retail stores that are 21 years or older. Smoking and vaping is also prohibited within 25 feet of doors, windows, and ventilation intakes for these indoor spaces.
The language authorizes local enforcement of WA’s existing Smoking in Public Places law that prohibits smoking in these areas and expands the prohibition to include vaping. The limited customer tastings exception must be allowed under the WA Vapor Products law which also defines additional requirements for customer tastings.
- Prohibits smoking and vaping in youth-oriented outdoor public places which are defined as playgrounds and outdoor properties of child care facilities and K-12 schools.
These prohibitions mirror state law and allow for local enforcement and signage requirements.
Similar ordinances in Jefferson and Skagit counties prohibit smoking and vaping more broadly in all outdoor public places where children congregate. Thurston’s Board of Health, however, has a smoking and vaping ban in all county-owned parks and trails that took effect in August 2018. Additionally, a number of cities in the county have no smoking and vaping policies for their parks.
- Requires signs stating no smoking and no vaping is allowed at building entrances and the youth-oriented public places.
- Authorizes enforcement of these prohibitions after a 6-month educational phase. The public health department focuses on written notices in response to complaints, then providing education and technical assistance to resolve the problem. Civil penalties may be assessed after multiple complaints and ongoing noncompliance.
I was pleased to play a role in this successful outcome by consulting for Thurston County Public Health & Social Services in 2019 after their Board authorized them to develop a local ordinance. I drafted initial ordinance language, explained policy options for consideration by the department and ultimately by their Board, and provided evidence-based background and policy process suggestions.
More information about my work and all the local ordinances in Washington State is on my Vaping & E-Cigarettes page.