Inslee seeks to curb kids' use of e-cigarettes

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Gov. Jay Inslee (2015)

Vapin' in the boys room is much easer than smokin' in the boys room.

And that's one reason why Gov. Jay Inslee and some legislators are pushing bills to tax electronic cigarettes, require retailers to become licensed to sell vaping products, prohibit Internet sales and restrict marketing aimed at youth. Sens. David Frockt, D-Seattle, and Ann Rivers, R-La Center, introduced a Senate bill to control the vaping products. Reps. Gerald Pollet, D-Seattle, and Paul Harris, R-Vancouver introduced the House version. The expected tax income under their proposals is about $18 million a year.

Also, Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, has a bill in play to ban the sale of e-cigarette products to children under 18.

An e-cigarette, which looks a little like an actual cigarette, is really just a tube with a heated atomizing device in it. A liquid — either laced with nicotine or nicotine-free, and sometimes flavored — is poured in and the heating atomizer turns the fluid into vapor, which is then inhaled or "vaped."

It's a way of using tobacco and other products that's exploded in popularity: Between 2008 and 2012, the number of e-cigarettes sold grew from 50,000 to 5 million a year,according to USA Today.

Vaping has skyrocketed among teens in Washington.

Ask Scott Martin, principal of Cedarcrest Junior High principal in Spanaway. He has recently worked in both junior and senior high schools in the Spanaway district.

With no smoke and no smell, kids can vape in restroom stalls without anyone noticing. Students can kneel and huddle in hallways to vape undetected. One trick in the classroom is to pretend to look inside a backpack for a book and sneak a vape.

Martin has seen adults at high school football games -- officially no-smoking and no-vaping zones -- with their e-cigarettes dangling from around their necks, likely sneaking their nicotine fixes when school officials aren't looking. He has caught 12-year-olds vaping. He said parents sometimes argue against the school disciplining their kids for vaping, contending it is less harmful than cigarettes.

"We've done a pretty good job of stigmatizing cigarettes. There's less fear with vaping," Martin said.

“It’s too easy and too cheap for teenagers and children to buy these products," said Inslee at a Thursday press conference with health and education officials.

"We have found a new threat that has exploded in our state. ... We must act this year," Inslee said.

A 2014 state survey showed that 8.5 percent of eighth graders, 18 percent of 10th graders and 23 percent of high school seniors in Washington had used e-cigarettes in the previous 30 days. That compares to 8 percent of high school sophomores reporting using real cigarettes in the previous 30 days.

“Many kids believe e-cigarettes are safe, but scientific evidence suggests they are not,” said John Wiesman, Washington’s Secretary of Health, in a statement. “Vaping may expose our children to harmful toxic chemicals such as lead and formaldehyde as well as nicotine.”

The state's poison control centers reported just two calls in 2010 relating to nicotine-laced vaping fluids, but 182 such calls in 2014. Of those 182 calls, 133 involved young children with 109 3-years-old or younger. Last year, a 1-year-old in New York state died from drinking vaping fluid.

Gregory Conley, a spokesman for the American Vaping Association, questioned the wisdom of the Inslee-backed legislation, saying e-cigarettes are still far less hazardous than tobacco products. Between 2013 and 2014, the nation “had the largest decline in teen smoking, in history.” Conley said this decrease in smoking is "directly related to the increase in vaping. We will have a full report shortly."

Meanwhile, Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, who introduced a bill to require child-resistant packaging for e-cigarette products, said children's health is important, but should not be mixed with a tax proposal.

“Our top priority ought to be protection, not taxation,” Dammeier said in a press statement. “These teen-usage statistics certainly are a matter of concern. Taxation is something we ought to consider separately, as a matter of fiscal policy. Our most important goal ought to be making sure our children are safe. ... But the way this proposal is written, we have to wonder, is this about public safety, or is it about the money?”

Editor's note: This story was updated Feb. 19 to change a quote from John Wiesman about the safety of e-cigarettes after the governor's office revised its release of his remarks.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8