Northwest News

A flavored vape ban was proposed 4 years ago and failed. Will lawmakers pass it now?

On March 16, 2015, John Wiesman, the state’s Secretary of Health, asked lawmakers to approve a bill that included a ban on flavored vaping products.

“I am ringing the alarm bell on the use of vaping products by our youth,” said Wiesman. “I need you to take action this session.”

It didn’t happen. A year later, the House passed the bill requested by Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, but it died in the Senate.

State Rep. Gerry Pollet, the Seattle Democrat who sponsored the bill, tried again earlier this year. The state Department of Health returned, with Lacy Fehrenbach, assistant secretary for Prevention and Community Health, explaining why legislators should pass it.

“We support this bill, which addresses one of our biggest concerns right now; the dramatic rise in vapor product use among youth in our state,” she said.

The measure died in a House committee.

Last month, as Washington dealt with seven cases of severe lung illness linked to the use of vaping products, Inslee signed an executive order asking the state Board of Health to adopt emergency rules that, among several other items, bans flavored vaping products. The board adopted the rules on Oct. 9, and they took effect the next day. The ban also covers flavored products containing cannabis-derived THC sold at state-regulated marijuana retail stores.

Because the rules expire in February, Pollet will try again to get his bill passed, this time during the 60-day legislative session that begins in January.

Pollet said his bill did not pass in 2016 because Republicans who controlled the Senate and vaping industry representatives opposed a ban on flavored products. A Senate GOP spokesperson did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

In an interview Monday, Pollet said his bill did not pass this year because the Legislature’s priorities were passing two major bills that became law.

One raised the minimum age for buying tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21, sponsored by Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver. That law takes effect Jan 1.

The other, sponsored by Pollet, taxes vaping products to help pay for cancer research and health programs to stop smoking. It went into effect Oct. 1.

Pollet said he expects another tough battle to get his bill to prohibit flavored vapes passed.

“This industry has chosen to use flavoring to addict a whole new generation to nicotine, and the research is overwhelming that a child or a teenager is three to seven times more likely to start smoking if they initiate vaping,” he said.

Kim Thompson, who opened her first vape store in 2011 in Lakewood, told legislators earlier this year that flavors help adults quit smoking tobacco.

“Flavors in our industry are very important. In my stores, I only probably sell 5 percent of tobacco flavors. Adults do need flavors to help them quit smoking. With a flavor ban, there would no flavor. It would only be the flavor of propylene glycol,” said Thompson, referring to one of the components of vape juice. “That is not much of an incentive when you have an an incredibly-addictive product like cigarettes calling to you.”

James Drew covers the state Legislature and state government for McClatchy’s Washington papers: The News Tribune, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald and The Tri-City Herald.