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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Tobacco Prevention Program Newsletter, Winter 2011
By Joy Hamilton

Board of Health approves electronic cigarette regulations

The King County Board of Health recently passed regulations to protect King County youth from electronic smoking devices and unregulated nicotine delivery products.

The Board of Health voted unanimously to:

  • restrict the sales of e-cigarettes or any other unapproved nicotine delivery products to people 18 and older;
  • prohibit free or highly discounted electronic smoking devices or unapproved nicotine delivery products;
  • prohibit the use of e-cigarette devices in places where smoking is prohibited by law

Electronic smoking devices, commonly known as "e-cigarettes," are battery-operated devices designed to look like and to be used in the same manner as conventional cigarettes. E-cigarettes use cartridges to deliver vaporized nicotine, the same highly addictive drug that's in tobacco. The FDA is investigating ecigarettes, but the products are currently unregulated at the federal level.

E-cigarettes have a high appeal to youth. They are sold in convenience stores and mall kiosks and come in candy flavors including chocolate, vanilla and mint. The FDA has warned that e-cigarettes can increase nicotine addiction among young people and may lead youth to try conventional tobacco products.

As these products have become more widely available, public use has also increased. E-cigarettes mimic the appearance of regular cigarettes because the user exhales a smoke-like vapor similar in appearance to the exhaled smoke from a cigarette. Their use is visually indistinguishable from the use of traditional tobacco products in public, which leads to confusion and may prompt people to smoke traditional tobacco products.

In passing the regulation, Board of Health members also expressed concern that the use of these products threatens to undermine the social norming impact of Smoking in Public Places law.

Several other jurisdictions across the United States have created similar regulations related to ecigarettes, but King County's regulations are believed to be the most comprehensive in the nation.