County considers ban on public smoking, vaping

March 15, 2019
In this April 23, 2014 file photo, a man smokes an electronic cigarette in Chicago.

MOUNT VERNON — The Skagit County commissioners are considering a proposal from county Public Health to ban public smoking and vaping countywide.

Julie de Losada, division manager with Public Health’s Clinical Health Partnerships, said the proposed ordinance presented to the commissioners Tuesday is designed to protect nonsmokers, but she hopes it will also keep youth from picking up the habit.

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for 2 p.m. April 9.

While the state has had a ban on smoking in public places since 2005, de Losada said Skagit County never approved that law. Because of this, the law could not be enforced locally.

If the commissioners approve the ordinance from Public Health, de Losada said smoking and vaping would be banned within 25 feet of the door of any place of employment, and at public social spaces such as parks or beaches.

She said the ordinance would give community members a tool to tell smokers or vapers that their actions aren’t allowed.

“We know that nonsmokers can have nicotine in their blood up to 24 hours after being near a vaper,” she said.

Most users, especially young people, don’t understand the potential dangers of the chemicals in vape liquid, and how they react to different levels of heat in different vape devices, she said.

“One pod of the Juul product contains the same nicotine as a pack of cigarettes,” de Losada said, referring to a popular vaping device.

But on top of that, vape liquids can contain less obvious carcinogens or hazardous materials, such as lead, she said.

Commissioners Ken Dahlstedt and Ron Wesen spoke Tuesday in support of the goals of the ordinance.

Wesen said he believes the county needs to do a better job with information and education on the dangers of vaping.

Dahlstedt said if the ordinance passes there will still be a handful of public places in the county that wouldn’t need to comply.

“The only public place you’ll be able to do it is in the casinos,” he said.

He acknowledged the cultural importance that tobacco has for Native American tribes, but challenged area tribes to consider similar rules.

“We want everyone to be healthy and safe,” he said.

Public health organizations nationwide have had decades of practice in preventing youth cigarette use, de Losada said. But vaping presents a new challenge.

She mentioned flavors of liquid used in vape devices, such as cotton candy and banana.

“Those are clearly products aimed toward younger people, and not adults,” she said.

According to the most recent state Healthy Youth Survey, 18 percent of high school seniors in Skagit County reported using a nicotine product in the previous 30 days.

If the ordinance passes, de Losada said it will model good behavior to young people in the county.

“When we as a society say you can’t smoke in some places but we don’t address vaping ... it gives them the idea that it’s not risky,” she said.

“This (ordinance) says ‘we don’t do it in public. It’s not socially acceptable,’” she said.

She said even if people violate the ordinance, they shouldn’t expect a fine. Rather, the enforcement would be aimed at businesses that allow customers to smoke or vape.

“We wouldn’t necessary start with a fee or fine,” de Losada said. “We would start with education.”

Public Health is accepting written public comment on this issue through April 9.

Comments can be submitted at skagitcounty.net/health, sent to julied@co.skagit.wa.us, or mailed to 700 S. Second Street, Mount Vernon, 98273-1071.