Preventing kids from becoming addicted to nicotine isn’t the only goal of Washington’s new rules for electronic cigarettes.
State officials also want to discourage people — especially teenagers — from using e-cigarettes and other devices to vape marijuana in public places.
Washington’s marijuana law doesn’t allow people to consume, smoke or vape marijuana products in public. But state officials say handheld vaporizers can be used to circumvent the law with few people noticing.
It’s also a way teenagers can consume weed discreetly, officials say. The state’s marijuana law prohibits marijuana use by those younger than 21.
“I’m really worried about how many kids are starting vaping, and the fact that it can still be marijuana,” said state Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, who helped negotiate the state’s new vapor product rules. “You can’t tell what’s in there ... You don’t even know what they’re smoking.”
The state’s new rules for vapor products, if signed into law as expected next week by Gov. Jay Inslee, will ban use of e-cigarettes and vape pens in schools, day cares and elevators. At the same time, the law will allow local health boards to ban all public vaping indoors, and in outdoor areas where children congregate.
The law also gives authorities the ability to confiscate vapor products from minors, and issue citations to minors who illegally possess e-cigarettes and vape pens. Right now, only retailers who sell the products to minors can be penalized under state law.
Jason McGill, Inslee’s health policy adviser, said the law should help curb the problem of teenagers using vaping devices to sneak marijuana.
“If they knew there was no violation, no penalty, they might be emboldened,” McGill said.
Product Ads Promote Portability, Discretion
E-cigarettes and vape pens typically vaporize liquid nicotine to recreate the sensation of smoking tobacco. But they can also be used to vaporize cannabis oil or concentrates of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration calls the practice an “emerging threat,” noting: “Many abusers of marijuana concentrates prefer the e-cigarette/vaporizer because it’s smokeless, odorless, and easy to hide or conceal.”
Fueling state officials’ concerns are online advertisements showing people vaping marijuana at restaurants, concerts and other public places.
An online ad from Seattle-based JUJU Joints, a company that produces disposable marijuana vaporizers, shows young people using the products in those settings — and outside, after a jog.
On social media, the company seems to promote using the devices away from home with the online hashtag #adventureswithjuju. The company didn’t respond to a reporter’s messages this week.
Other websites provide how-to-guidance for vaping marijuana in public without getting caught.
McGill said that secondhand vapor from people vaping marijuana is “arguably less harmful” than secondhand smoke from cigarettes.
“But there is still science that it is harmful, particularly to women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, or younger children,” McGill said. “We don’t really need that exposure.”
Vaping In The Classroom
While Tacoma and Seattle police said they haven’t had many incidents with people vaping marijuana in public, school officials report it has been becoming a problem among teenagers.
According to a 2014 survey, 8 percent of King County students who reported using marijuana in the previous month said they vaporized it, county health officials said.
Statewide, 7 percent of 12th- and eighth-graders who recently used marijuana said they used it with a vaporizer, according to the report from Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Sometimes it’s happening right under teachers’ noses, said Parma Osorio, a drug and alcohol counselor with the Puget Sound Educational Service District.
Students frequently tell her about the practice when they are referred to her for drug and alcohol assessments, said Osorio, who works with students at Washington High School in the Franklin Pierce School District.
“They’re telling me they’re doing it in the classroom, in the back of the class, right in front of the teacher — and there’s no odor to it,” Osorio said.
“It’s a very popular thing right now, especially in the high schools.”
Osorio said one reason the trend is concerning is because research has shown that marijuana can damage teenagers’ still-growing brains. Yet most of the students she speaks with see it as relatively harmless, partly because the drug is legal for adults to use recreationally, she said.
Osorio said she thinks the threat of being fined or issued a ticket under the state’s new vapor product rules could help change teens’ behavior. She said youth tobacco use declined when officers began issuing citations and fines for underage tobacco use.
“It gives us more teeth because then they will want to avoid any legal consequences, so they’ll follow the recommendations and get some help,” Osorio said.
Businesses Discourage Public Vaping
Bryen Salas, the founder and president of IONIC, a Gig Harbor-based company that produces disposable vaporizers for cannabis oil, said his company is careful in its advertisements not to promote using the devices in public places.
Instead, in one ad, a group of models is shown using the vaporizers at a private house party, while talking and enjoying glasses of wine, he said.
While the company does market the products as a more discreet way to consume marijuana, Salas said that’s not to encourage people to break the state’s law about using marijuana in public. Rather, it’s about helping them avoid the stigma and smell that often is associated with smoking a joint, which can be problems even when using marijuana at home, he said.
“There’s a large portion of folks who, if they saw you with a joint or something, they would look at it differently than someone who is just sitting and smoking a cigarette,” Salas said.
“For that reason, discretion is necessary. It is a discreet way to do it and not draw attention from your own family.”
Marc Jarrett, a part owner of a Lakewood business that produces liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes, said he knows of no vape shops that advertise their devices as a way to secretly consume marijuana instead of nicotine.
He said he and other people in the industry support the state’s push to keep vaping devices away from teenagers, whether the products are being used to vape liquid nicotine or marijuana concentrate.
“No one should be vaping marijuana in public. Period,” said Jarrett, who is also vice president of the pro-vaping group The Pink Lung Brigade.
“All they have to do is attack the root of the issue — which is keeping vaping out of youth hands — and then almost all of this goes away.”