As the youth vaping epidemic continues and public health officials scramble to figure out serious lung illnesses and deaths linked to vaping, the local Boards of Health in Skagit and Jefferson counties have taken action to prohibit vaping in public. With these policy actions, 12 of Washington State’s 39 counties have local regulations that restrict vaping in indoor public places and places of employment, similarly to where smoking is prohibited under state law.
The Skagit County Board of Health passed its Smoking and Vaping in Public Places ordinance in April 2019, and the law took effect in July. This ordinance prohibits vaping any substance in indoor public places as well as places of employment, with a limited exception for tastings of vapor products in age-restricted retail outlets. Such tastings are included under the WA State Vapor Products law and cannot be prohibited by local jurisdictions.
In 2019, vape stores offering tastings must restrict entry to those 18 and older; however the entry age will increase to 21 in January 2020 under the state’s new Tobacco 21 law.
In addition, Skagit’s new law prohibits smoking and vaping in outdoor public places where children congregate throughout the county, such as parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields. Local ordinances in Pierce and Snohomish counties also prohibit vaping in these outdoor public places, but the Skagit County ordinance is the first in the state to include a countywide ban on smoking in outdoor public places where children congregate.
Jefferson County’s Board of Health took similar action in September 2019, passing an amendment to their existing Clean Indoor Air Ordinance that took effect immediately. Vaping is prohibited in indoor public places, places of employment, and both smoking and vaping are prohibited in outdoor public places where children congregate. The ordinance includes a limited exception for tastings in age-restricted vapor product retail outlets, as required under state law.
Both the Skagit and Jefferson ordinances also prohibit vaping within 25 feet of doors, windows, and ventilation intakes of buildings where vaping is prohibited. “No Vaping” signs must be posted by building owners and can be combined with no smoking signs. Enforcement of each ordinance by the local health department follows standard procedures that focus on education and warnings to property owners, but may involve civil penalties and other actions.
It was great to see these two policy processes reach successful outcomes in 2019, with unanimous votes from elected leaders! I consulted for Skagit County Public Health Department throughout the design and implementation of their policy process during 2018 and 2019. I drafted the ordinance language and offered policy options for consideration by the department and ultimately by their Board. My work for Jefferson County Public Health focused on reviewing and refining their proposed ordinance language, as well as suggesting policy improvements. This consulting work built upon my vapor products policy work in 2015 and 2016, which includes developing Whatcom County’s ordinance which passed in November 2016.
I look forward to seeing this 2019 policy trend continue as more Boards of Health in Washington use their local authority to protect their communities from unwanted exposures to vaping and the mixture of toxic and potentially harmful in vape aerosols.
Learn more about the issues and my work on my Vaping & E-Cigarettes page.