The Washington State Board of Health recently passed an emergency ban on the sale of flavored vapor products or any products that can be used to create a flavored vapor product with the rule taking effect on Oct. 10 and lasting for 120 days.
“This is a critical part of our response to the youth vaping epidemic and the outbreak of vaping associated lung injury in Washington and throughout the country,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman said. “While we don’t yet know the exact cause of the lung injury, we know these products are not safe and we must act quickly to protect young people.”
According to the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are currently seven cases in Washington and nearly 1,300 cases nationwide, with 26 cases resulting in death. The outbreak is concentrated in young people, with the median age of patients being 23. However, in five of the seven Washington cases patients are between 10 and 29 years old.
The emergency ban followed just days after a tax on the vapor oil — more commonly known as “vape juice” — took effect. According to one shop owner, the tax has placed a significant burden on businesses that cater to vape product users.
“I closed my other shop in Port Townsend before the tax hit because I didn’t want to pay it and then have the ban go into effect. If I hadn’t I would have gone bankrupt,” said Quinn Richards owner of Partly Cloudy Vapors in Poulsbo.
House Bill 1873 was passed on the last day of the legislative session in 2019 and went into effect Oct. 1. The bill placed a $0.09 tax on vape juice containers greater than five milliliters and a $0.27 tax on all other vapor products. The tax was estimated to raise $19 million in revenue with more than half of that money going into the state’s public health services account and the rest going to fund cancer research and other programs designed to prevent use by those under 18.
“We just paid a crazy tax on everything we have in stock and now we have to sit on it or destroy it,” Richards said.
Prior to the tax Richards and his friend Jacob Ragsdale, who co-own the shop in Poulsbo, were looking into CBD (Cannabidiol) products to supplement their losses and stay afloat.
For shop owners like Jacob Johnson, owner of Granite Vapor in Silverdale, CBD isn’t an option.
“I’m in a military town, I can’t sell CBD,” Johnson said. “People are having to pull all of their flavors, switch over to tobacco flavors and unflavored nicotine products. Basically in the majority of these shops, you go from 200 flavors to about four.”
“You have Washington shop owners, closing their doors, pulling the product from the shelves or changing their whole business model to stay in business, pay their rent or mortgage and feed their families,” he added.
Johnson said he doesn’t believe the ban will do anything to solve the problem of youth consumption of vaping products but will instead lead more young people toward buying from unregulated sites or ill-informed sellers.
”You’re going to see more shops that will sell to underage individuals, that are untrained or more online shopping, which is our biggest problem with policing this and making sure the product won’t end up in the wrong hands,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he viewed the ban as a backward step, one that will likely push many people back to smoking cigarettes.
“There’s been nothing on the market that’s been proven to successfully get people off of smoking cigarettes, chewing gum, patches, [prescription medications] the successes are a very small percentage. The percentage is much larger for people who vape and [that] has changed the industry significantly, going from less than a million-dollar industry seven years ago to a $40 billion industry now. It makes the tobacco industry really nervous,” Johnson said.
While the ban could potentially devastate shop owners like Richards and Johnson, it could prove to be a business boom for tribal shop owners, who are not subject to the ban. However, even some of Washington’s tribes have willingly adopted the ban, such as the Snoqualmie and Puyllalup tribes.