Our opinion: Kudos for Washington County ban on flavored vapes
A new ordinance in Washington County, which went into effect at the start of January, bans the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products countywide. We applaud this bold public health move and hope the Legislature can do the same statewide.
The Washington County rule does not affect traditional cigarettes and vaping products, just those with artificial flavors such as strawberry and mango grape. According to the website vapejuice.com, the most popular flavors include — we're not kidding — Donut Vape Juice, Candy Vape Juice and Cereal Vape Juice.
On a 3-2 vote back in November, the county commissioners understood the reasons behind such sweet and fanciful vaping and tobacco products: The point is to lure underage youths to smoke.
All of the products mentioned on the vapejuice.com site have two things in common: They're designed to taste good, and they all contain nicotine, an addictive chemical.
Nobody would create a product like Blueberries Lemon Swirl E-Juice to entice a 40-year-old to start vaping. The entire purpose is to get kids addicted.
The county decided to put a stop to that. Other counties should follow suit, as should the Legislature, if not in the short session that begins in February, then in the longer 2023 session.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke to Congress in 2019, saying, "…we really want to avoid another generation being addicted to nicotine. So, addressing flavors directly is a good idea."
There is no end to the list of dangerous or potentially dangerous substances that a local government can ban. In Oregon, counties — not cities — have the onus of carrying out local public health policy. So, the power to ban nicotine products easily falls within the county's purview.
There are those who fear that such a ban will be harmful to small businesses in Washington County that sell the flavored products. Others argue that such a ban will encourage users to drive across the county border and spend their money in Multnomah, Clackamas or Yamhill counties. That might be true for older adults, yes, but unlikely for the 15-year-old who is in danger of becoming addicted to nicotine. And the drive-to-the-border argument is just another reason to push other counties and the state as a whole to follow suit.
Then why not just ban the sales of these products to those 17 and younger? Because of the high likelihood that an older person — say a sibling — will buy them to share with the younger kids. This ban just puts one more blockage between those portable dispensers of nicotine and another set of underage, still-developing lungs.
Will it stop every kid from getting these products? No. Will it stop a considerable percentage of them? We think so.
The simple truth of cigarettes and vapes is that they taste bad. The flavor is the marketing mechanism to overcome that flaw.
According to a September 2021 report issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC, flavored vape brands are used by almost 85% of the more than 2 million middle and high school students in the nation who used e-cigarettes last year. That included 85.8% of high school students and 79.2% of middle school students, the study reads. And the most commonly used flavor types include fruit, candy, desserts, other sweets and mint.
Washington County's ban sends a strong message about public health to young people at a time when a coronavirus is waxing and waning into its third year of misery; when many health clinics in schools have been pared back or shut down; when public schools are desperate to hire counselors; when students, bereft of the norm-setting practices of being in a brick-and-mortar school, are struggling to find a new normal and, in many cases, acting out.
The overall state of public health for teenagers is teetering right now. And Washington County took the bold step of shoring up at least one element of kids' health.
This is good public policy.
Other counties should join the bandwagon until the Legislature is able to do so statewide.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.