More than 2,600 e-cigarette users across America have fallen ill with a mysterious lung illness and 60 have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-three have been affected in Washington state. Yet federal regulators inserted significant exemptions that allow all liquid for refillable vaping pens and all menthol e-cigarettes to use flavorings that mask tobacco’s harsh taste. Additionally, the vape liquid additive vitamin E acetate, which the CDC has “strongly linked” to the lung disease, remains widely available.
Washington’s lawmakers should correct the shortcomings of this weak federal measure.
House Bill 2454 and Senate Bill 6254 would ban all flavored vape products, without exception. Requested by Gov. Jay Inslee, the bills would also limit the amount of addictive nicotine that vape liquid could contain, and ban all use of vitamin E acetate in e-cigarettes. The state Department of Health and the Liquor and Cannabis Board would also gain new authority to block sales of unsafe vape products.
The Senate’s Committee on Health and Long Term Care will hold a hearing on the vaping legislation Wednesday.
Federal officials failed their duty by allowing e-cigarettes to be sold without the legally required authorization in the first place. Proliferation has shown that vaping comes with significant risks. State lawmakers must step into the breach with stronger protection for public health.
The ban on all flavored vape products would help protect teenagers, for whom the devices can be an onramp to chronic nicotine addiction. A University of Michigan study of eighth, 10th and 12th graders nationwide found vaping rates had doubled from 2017 to 2019. A separate study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in November found most high-school vapers opt for e-cigarettes loaded with mint, mango and other fruit flavorings.
And this month, KOMO-TV reported that five of Washington’s confirmed cases of vaping-related lung disease involve teenage patients.
“Flavored vaping products have been a real threat to our kids,” said Molly Voris, Inslee’s health adviser, “and we are headed toward an epidemic of hooking a whole new generation on nicotine.”
Until research can fully identify all risks associated with e-cigarettes, vaping should be regulated as an unsafe practice. Teenagers deserve additional protections because of the damaging potential for a lifelong habit. The Legislature has a public-health duty to approve Inslee’s proposed bans.