In coming weeks, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s board is expected to pass an ordinance limiting vaping in public places, bringing its policies in line with 34 other counties that already regulate electronic smoking devices to the same standards as cigarettes.
Dr. Sherri Young, director of KCHD, said the ordinance will mirror the county’s Clean Indoor Air Act, which bans smoking inside nearly all enclosed work and public places.
“Vaping is an entirely different entity than smoking, but we can expect this ordinance, reasonably, to look quite similar,” Young said. “This is something that counties have to do themselves, and there are other steps that will be taken, I believe, at the state level in the future to hopefully limit the health threats posed by vaping products.”
So far, more than 2,000 people nationally have been diagnosed with vaping related illnesses and 47 have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In West Virginia, there have been eight diagnosed cases, according to the Bureau for Public Health. One was found in Kanawha County, and a resident was diagnosed in a different county.
Obviously, Young said, creating an ordinance to limit vaping in certain locations won’t stop people from using the products, but it could be helpful in spreading awareness and starting conversations about the potential threats of vaping.
Tiler Lockhart, owner of Hazy Hollow Vapers at Southridge Centre, said he wouldn’t be against such an ordinance, and he doesn’t believe it would affect retail.
“I can get behind it and I think a lot of people will agree,” Lockhart said. “I don’t vape anywhere I wouldn’t smoke. It’s a respect thing, and I’m going to do my best to respect those around me.”
Vaping helped Lockhart quit smoking several years ago. Lockhart, who is studying nursing, said now he wants to help as many people as he can stop smoking, and if vaping helps, he’ll support it.
A November study by the CDC found that vitamin E acetate may be a “very strong culprit” for the sudden outbreak of lung illnesses nationally. This isn’t found in most vaping products, but is a vitamin supplement that is commonly used in skin lotion. Per the CDC, sellers on the black market may cut vape products that include THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, with vitamin E to reduce costs and maximize product. Consumers are warned to not buy any vape oils — THC or otherwise — off the street or from unverified sellers.
“That’s your drug dealer making that, someone who is not in a proper, legal business,” Lockhart said. “You won’t find that in a store, hopefully anywhere.”
Still, the American Medical Association is calling for a total ban on all vaping products not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which would be a sizeable amount, as many products are just registered with the FDA, meaning producers have not gone through the agency’s authorization process.
Kanawha County isn’t alone in taking recent action against vaping. The Cabell-Huntington Health Department issued an official statement against vaping in October, and is also expected to take steps to curb the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products within the county limits.
In their November board meeting, members of the KCHD board of health made it clear a big motivator for its actions come from the increase in youth vaping.
Members discussed the importance of pushing for a ban against flavored vape products, which many say are marketed specifically toward children, but Young said that is a move that will need to be made at the state level come legislative session.
Some states, including New York, have already tried to implement state-wide bans on flavored vaping products, but those moves have been held up by legal challenges. Many states implemented temporary bans on the products, and the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago are considering total bans on all vaping products.
Lockhart said it’s a common misconception that brands like Juul, a favored device among teens, are synonymous with other vaping activities. Most vape shops, including his, refuse to carry Juul or related devices, he said, and he doesn’t see that changing.
“That’s not what vaping is, and for the most part, when you see someone using an actual vape, it’s something that helped them quit smoking, kick a worse habit,” Lockhart said. “The companies like Juul are what are giving us a bad name. We’re trying to help people usually, and they’re the ones responsible for a lot of the negative sides you see in the news.”