A public comment period is opening for Kanawha County residents to express thoughts and concerns regarding a vaping ordinance passed by the Kanawha Charleston Health Department’s Board of Directors during a special meeting Thursday.
The ordinance mirrors the county’s standing Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits smoking in and around public places, but this time targets vaping. The ordinance will not be enforced in vape shops, where those who vape often sample products before purchasing, according to owners of area shops.
“We didn’t want the regulations to be all that different,” said Dr. Sherri Young, director and health officer at KCHD. “This will make the public healthier by limiting the public’s exposure to vaping.”
The public comment period will run until Jan. 16, the health board’s next meeting. Residents can find a copy of the ordinance on the health department’s website and submit comments via email, fax or mail.
“All comments will be read in full and considered,” Young said.
At the Jan. 16 meeting, to be held at the health department, residents also may give comments in person. After the closure of the public comment period, board members will either vote to approve the ordinance or schedule to meet again if they deem more time is needed to consider public comments, said Dr. Art Rubin, chairman of the KCHD board.
The ordinance is fully supported by the Kanawha County Commission, Young said. If it’s enacted, Kanawha would be the 35th of West Virginia’s 55 counties to limit vaping within its limits.
The vaping ordinance would be enforced the same as the Clean Indoor Air Act. If people are found vaping in a place where it’s prohibited, they’d be asked to stop. County sanitarians would check at restaurant and business inspections to ensure signs are posted according to the law.
Nationwide, vaping and its potential threats are influencing and inspiring legislation at all levels of government. Several cities and counties have taken to banning vape products outright, or limiting sales of flavored products, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims is targeted specifically to children.
In West Virginia, there have been eight cases of vaping-related illnesses, two with ties to Kanawha County. Per state reports, neither of those people were minors.
Earlier this year, Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, called on Gov. Jim Justice to declare a public health emergency, to prohibit the sale of flavored vaping products in the state. No action has yet been taken, but Young said she expects the issue to arise during the upcoming legislative session.
According to the CDC, many of the people diagnosed with vaping-related illnesses nationwide were using products illegally cut with Vitamin E acetate, a substance commonly used in lotions and other topical products. It is not intended for inhalation, and lungs are not equipped to break it down.
The limit to vaping in public places will most likely not erase this risk. And while people are urged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC to not use any type of tobacco or “nicotine delivery system,” they are especially urged against buying vape cartridges on the black market.
Young said there is still much work to do at the local, state and federal levels to limit the health risks associated with vaping, but she said she believes this is a good start.
“This is a growing health issue,” Young said. “It’s also an environmental issue, and should be treated as such.”