Electronic smoking devices and your business

Electronic cigarettes and smoking devices seem to be everywhere these days. Sold at convenience stores, mall kiosks and online, they often are used in places where smoking is prohibited.

Currently, Washington has no statewide regulations on the use, sale, contents or packaging of electronic smoking devices. However, several local governments across the state have prohibitions on their use and sale to minors. Additionally, several bills have been introduced in the Washington Legislature that, if passed, would regulate the sale, use, packaging and taxing of electronic vapor products. In Clark County, selling e-cigarettes to minors currently is illegal.

Until e-cigarette legislation provides more guidance, Clark County Public Health offers business owners the following information about these new products:

What exactly are electronic smoking devices?

Designed to be used like conventional tobacco products, electronic smoking devices are used to inhale a vaporized liquid solution that frequently, but not always, contains nicotine. Because the liquid solution is converted to a vapor, electronic smoking device use is generally referred to as “vaping.”

Originally, most of the devices were designed to look like cigarettes. However, many newer electronic smoking devices can look like pens, flash drives or even toys. Fruit and candy flavorings are designed to appeal to young people.

Perhaps as a result of youth-oriented marketing, e-cigarette use tripled among high school students between 2011 and 2013, and evidence shows that e-cigarettes now surpass conventional tobacco products in popularity among young people.

More than 400 brands of electronic smoking devices are available today. They are used to inhale a variety of substances, including tetrahydrocannabinol oil, a psychoactive constituent, from marijuana and marijuana itself. Area schools report confiscating dozens of these devices daily.

How safe are electronic smoking devices?

The safety of e-cigarettes is largely unknown because the devices are not federally regulated. Even so, we know vapor emitted by an electronic smoking device is not simply water. Tests show it contains carcinogens such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, lead, nickel and chromium.

Additionally, tests have found electronic smoking devices contain other hazardous substances such as PM2.5, acrolein, tin, toluene and aluminum. These substances are associated with a range of negative health effects such as skin, eye and respiratory irritation, damage to neurological and reproductive systems and even premature death from heart attack or stroke.

Though some harmful compounds in electronic smoking device vapor are in lower concentrations than what is found in traditional cigarette smoke, at least sodium, iron, aluminum, formaldehyde and nickel have been found in higher concentrations in vapor than cigarette smoke.

Am I legally required to allow “vaping” in my business?

No. Although the Washington Smoking in Public Places Law (RCW 70.120) does not regulate these devices, businesses and employers can prohibit on-site use. Many business owners have chosen to do so, citing these reasons: a desire to avoid health hazards of secondhand vapor; concerns about re-normalizing cigarette smoking; and the potential for confusion with tobacco cigarettes.

Clark County Public Health has free signs available for businesses and employers who want to make their establishments vapor-free. To obtain a sign, contact Theresa Cross at 360.397.8000 ext. 7378.

Theresa Cross is a Health Educator for Clark County Public Health.