SPOKANE, Wash. — In a unanimous vote, the Washington State Board of Health Board approved Governor Jay Inslee's executive order to ban the sale and purchase of flavored vaping products.
The State Board of Health met in Seattle Wednesday for a regularly scheduled meeting, but the big topic of the day was taking up the proposed vaping ban in Washington.
The Washington State Board of Health approved the ban that extends to Feb. 7.
The number of vaping-related illnesses in the U.S. continues to rise, now reaching about 1,300 cases and at least 26 deaths. Forty-nine states and one U.S. territory have reported illnesses. Only Alaska has not seen a case.
The Centers for Disease and Prevention on Thursday said 219 cases were reported in the past week. The count had risen by 275 each of the previous two weeks.
The 10 member Board of Health oversees the health and safety of the people living in the state. They are appointed by the governor and two members are currently from Spokane, Fran Bessermin and Dr. Bob Lutz. They are responsible for rule making and is the voting body when the governor declares and emergency surrounding health issues.
Lutz was a part of the discussion and the decision surrounding the vaping ban proposed by the governor. He said there was a lot of people who wanted to voice their concern to the board and more than 2,000 emails were sent in to the board ahead of the meeting.
"I would say 90 plus percent of the individuals in the audience yesterday were against speaking out against enactment of the ordinance," Lutz explained.
The majority of the people speaking out had concerns about how this ban will impact small businesses such as vape shops. Others gave testimony about how they turned to vaping as a cessation method and would still be on cigarettes otherwise.
Another concern people presented to the board was about how this ban could create more black market sales.
"It's already started Facebook, Instagram it's exploding with black market sales right now," said Joey Blodgett, who is the General Manager of Sublime Vapor in Spokane.
While Lutz said it is a possibility, the reality is they can only control what they can control.
"If we're able to lessen the use and availability and access of vaping products, flavored vaping products for the majority of individuals especially youth, we're doing the right thing," he said.
Lutz said while this is a complex issue, this is all about youth and keeping them away from tobacco products. He said, 98% of the market is flavored products and youth wouldn't use the product if the flavors weren't there because they've said they don't like the flavor of plain tobacco.
"The vast majority of youth are not using it to eliminate tobacco usage because the vast majority of kids don't smoke cigarettes," he said.
The board members said they don't know what is causing the deaths and injuries and until they do know they are going to take a very precautionary approach.
"This is the best and most complete way that we can prevent further injury," Lutz said.
Lutz said, the priority for them is and always will be how it impacts the health of the individual, and the public and that has to be their responsibility.
Sublime Vapor in Spokane has been slammed since the decision last night. Blodgett said they'll have to return all their flavors back to the manufacture for a refund. His customers will have to find an alternative when the flavors are off the shelves.
"They really don't want to go back to cigarettes, that's really what it breaks down to. They're like I don't know what I'm going to do if I don't have flavors that's what got me off cigarettes and is keeping me off cigarettes," said Blodgett.
In addition to his executive order on the emergency ban, Inslee asked for draft legislation that would, if approved, permanently ban all flavored vaping products, force companies to list ingredients on their vaping products, and more.
Inslee said he "wanted to go further" with the executive order, but based it on the current law.
During his September announcement of the executive order, Inslee argued that flavored vaping products are attractive to children, saying flavors such as bubble gum and cinnamon exist for "one reason and one reason only - make it more appealing to young children."