Inslee signs statewide vaping regulations for Washington

Businesses selling vapor products such as electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine in Washington will soon be regulated by statewide rules.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 6328 into law on Tuesday. It will create a set of policies for businesses selling the smoking alternatives, such as requiring them to purchase licenses through the state's Liquor and Cannabis Board and display signs reminding customers that buying the product is illegal for people under the age of 18.

Under existing law, there are few rules governing the sale of vapor products in the state. It's illegal to sell an e-cigarette to people under the age of 18, but the law is difficult to enforce, according to some who worked to pass the new regulations and the state Department of Health. The licensing will put money toward enforcing the age requirement.

Among other new rules contained in the bill, vaping products will now need labels warning users of their health effects, and liquid nicotine containers will need child-proof packaging. It also bans vaping in many public places such as schools, elevators, playgrounds, school buses and more.

Mary McHale, a policy expert in the state for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said the regulations are perhaps the strictest among states in the nation, and are aimed at preventing youths from vaping.

"By passing this bill we're saying with absolutely no reservations we're not going to surrender our children to the ravages of nicotine addiction," Inslee said at the bill signing on Tuesday.

In the Legislature, the new regulations nearly missed the deadline to be approved by lawmakers. The measure wasn't passed until the hectic final two days of the overtime special session after an effort to pass it in the regular 60-day session stalled. The bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said it was the result of two years of negotiations on the bill.

Some have had concerns about the legislation. Several counties such as King, Pierce and Snohomish have already enacted their own vaping regulations and the bill mostly wipes out local jurisdictions' ability to further regulate the sale and use of vapor products.

Frank Dibiase, the director of the environmental health division at the Pierce County Health Board, said pre-emption of local jurisdictions is always a concern with statewide legislation, but said Dammeier's bill was "comprehensive."

Sharon Bogan, a spokeswoman for King County Public Health, said in an email the agency is in favor of stronger vaping regulation in the state but doesn't support pre-empting local efforts.

For the cancer action network, McHale said the organization believes state-level regulations should be viewed "as a floor on which local health jurisdictions can build."

But the statewide pre-emption creates a "more stable regulatory environment," Dammeier said, adding that he believes vaping is a healthier habit than smoking cigarettes, and the legislation stops local governments from making it too difficult for adults to vape.

"I would say that we found the right compromise that ensures that our youth are protected while still allowing vaping as an option for smokers who are trying to kick tobacco," Dammeier said.