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Update on Proposed Tobacco Regulations

May 25, 2011

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to safeguard and enhance the health of the communities of Pierce County. As part of its mission, the Health Department tackles emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health.

On May 4, 2011, the Health Department commenced a public process to collect feedback on two pieces of proposed tobacco regulations. This is the same process used to seek community input and provide it to the Board of Health before any regulations are implemented. For this matter, input was received via email, an online form and at the public meetings that took place on May 16 and 18, 2011.

The community was actively engaged in the issue, focusing primarily on the proposed e-cigarette regulations. We are very pleased with the level of engagement from the community, and appreciate the public discourse that has taken place thus far. Several themes emerged from the public feedback. They are:

  • As a whole, the community agrees with and appreciates the changes implemented as a result of the Smoking in Public Places law enacted in 2005. They appreciate that dangerous secondhand smoke is no longer present in public places, both for health and aesthetic reasons, and support the proposed Chapter 8 regulations.
  • Generally, the public agrees with the provision of Chapter 9 regulating the sale to and use of e-cigarettes by minors. Overwhelmingly, commentators stated that e-cigarettes are used primarily by adults trying to quit a smoking habit.
  • Most of the commentators shared personal stories about e-cigarettes and how they have contributed to their success at quitting smoking or dramatically reducing the amount of cigarettes that they smoke. Due to their personal success, they feel that banning e-cigarettes in public places counteracts and interrupts their current success, and possibly discourages other smokers from attempting to quit.

The Health Department staff and leadership listened carefully to the feedback and took it into consideration. We still believe there is a lack of hard data to assure the public that e-cigarettes are safe for the user and bystanders, but at the same time we acknowledge that there is a similar lack of data that they are in fact harmful. While the scientific and regulatory communities will surely examine the safety of e-cigarettes for many years, we feel it is still appropriate to advance regulations that prudently protect the public from a risk that is not fully quantified.

However, as a result of the feedback we received, we believe it is appropriate to modify the original proposed e-cigarette regulation to allow the use of e-cigarettes in the following places:

  • Public places where minors are lawfully prohibited,
  • Places of employment that are not public places, and
  • Retail outlets that exclusively sell or promote electronic smoking devices

Review the full regulation.

Over the next two years, we will continue to gauge public concern over e-cigarette use, available scientific data and information about the production and marketing of e-cigarettes. We will provide the Board of Health with a report on these issues so that they can reconsider this regulation in two years or earlier, if new evidence is found.

We are pleased at the outcome of the process, and believe the proposed regulation advances the health of the people of Pierce County. These two proposed regulations are scheduled for discussion and a vote at the June 1 Board of Health meeting.

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