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E-cigarette ban in Seattle? Smoke shop owners just say no

Vape from an e-cig. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Smoke shop owners across Seattle are speaking out after Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said it’s time for the city to have a “discussion” on banning electronic-cigarettes. She floated the idea on Twitter, after San Francisco became the first city to ban the vaping products, aiming to reduce teen use. Anti-tobacco groups and the American Heart Association praised passage of the e-cigarette bill.

The owner of the Broadway Smoke Shop in Seattle, meanwhile, scoffed when he read Mayor Durkan’s tweet.

“It’s a hypocrisy on the part of the government,” said Harry, who chose not to give his last name. “You can smoke marijuana, you can still smoke cigarettes, and they’re okay? But the electronic cigarettes are not? I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Legislature approves bill raising state smoking, vaping age to 21

The Broadway Smoke Shop is one of 5,493 tobacco retailers in Washington. Many sell e-cigarettes, which contain the highly addictive drug, nicotine. Harry said the products make up about 40 percent of his sales.

“Because people are not smoking cigarettes anymore,” Harry said. “And, they consider e-cigarettes are much better, healthier.”

Studying the e-cigarette

The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown because they haven’t been studied long enough. The Federal Drug Administration is undergoing a safety review of the products. San Francisco’s law will be in place until the FDA conducts a full-assessment of e-cigs.

The ban came amid a dramatic rise in youth vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA’s National Youth Tobacco Survey shows the percentage of high schoolers reporting current use of e-cigarettes jumped by more than 78 percent between 2017 and 2018. The latest Washington State Healthy Youth Survey found 30 percent of 12th graders using e-cigarettes in 2018.

“Anything with nicotine in it has that potential to bring a person back to the substance,” said Dr. Susan Collins, co-director of the Harm Reduction Research and Treatment Center in Seattle. Collins said that’s dangerous for young people whose brains are not fully developed.

“Getting any drugs into the brain can hijack that development process and also create the potential for lifelong addiction to substances more easily,” Dr. Collins said.

The largest producer of e-cigarettes in the US, Juul Labs, has been accused of marketing directly to teens, using social media to hook youth. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says research shows youth are attracted to Juul’s various flavor options, including mango, chocolate, and cucumber. The company, meanwhile, says it’s taking aggressive action to reduce youth vaping and is advocating for Tobacco 21 legislation. Juul products come with a label, warning nicotine is an addictive chemical.

For adults, however, nicotine is not entirely dangerous, according to Dr. Collins. It doesn’t cause cancer while low doses of nicotine can be useful for adults trying to quit traditional cigarettes. One study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that people using e-cigarettes to quit had an 18 percent success rate.

“Anyway of delivering nicotine is safer than smoking. The e-cigarettes are inevitably safer, in fact 95 percent safer than smoking.” said Dr. Collins, citing research from Public Health England.

The government in England has launched a campaign to convince UK smokers that vaping is a good way to quit cigarettes. At the same time, emerging research suggests e-cigarettes may still pose health risks. A new study from the University of California, Riverside found even short exposure to e-cigarettes can damage neural stem cells that are critical to brain function.

While the medical community agrees that more research is needed, Washington lawmakers don’t want any of the state’s youth vaping. A new state law takes effect next year, raising the age to buy tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21. Other states are also taking action. In Vermont, there’s a new 92 percent tax on e-cigarettes, while Colorado banned vaping inside most public places.

Zach McClain owns Future Vapor in Seattle, and said he also wants to keep cigarettes away from young people. But, he thinks banning them altogether will create a black market for the product and drive former adult smokers back to deadly cigarettes.

“It’s always been adults that have been our focus. It’s never been part of our business plan to introduce people to nicotine,” McClain said. “It’s always been about introducing adult smokers to this alternative to smoking.”

If Mayor Durkan really wants to discuss a ban on e-cigarettes, McClain said he’d like to be part of the conversation.

 

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