Beginning Jan. 1, Oregonians will no longer be allowed to use vaporizers or electronic cigarettes inside public buildings, including bars and restaurants.
State lawmakers passed a bill in May expanding the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act, which initially only applied to tobacco products. The new regulations add marijuana to the list, while also prohibiting the sale of vaporizers and e-cigarettes to minors.
Businesses will be required to place “No smoking or vaping” signs at all entrances and exits, and could face fines up to $500 per day for violations of the law. The Oregon Health Authority is responsible for enforcing the law and investigating complaints.
There are several exceptions to the rule: smoking indoors is allowed at state-certified smoke shops and cigar bars; in hotel or motel rooms that allow smoking; and smoking non-commercial tobacco is allowed for American Indian ceremonies.
Susan Steward, executive director of the Oregon Building Owners and Managers Association, lobbied for expanding the Indoor Clean Air Act — also known as the Smoke Free Workplace Law — at the legislature, saying it would be a “logistical nightmare” to ban tobacco in buildings but not e-cigarettes.
“Just the logistics of trying to stop some people and not others would be just awful,” Steward said.
Steward said the effort was met with little resistance in Salem. The bill passed 22-8 in the Senate, and 55-2 in the House. All local Republican legislators — Sen. Bill Hansell and Reps. Greg Smith and Greg Barreto — voted in favor of the change.
Meghan DeBolt, director of the Umatilla County Health Department, said the law is a huge milestone for public health, because e-cigarette use is on the rise statewide.
According to the Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, e-cigarette use among high schoolers increased from 1.8 percent to 5.2 percent between 2011 and 2013, and 1 in 5 of those students had not smoked cigarettes before they started using e-cigarettes.
Though vaporizers are smokeless, DeBolt said they are not a safe alternative to smoking. E-cigarettes still contain nicotine, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, she said.
“The exposure to marketing of potentially addictive products that can have potentially adverse health effects is especially concerning to us,” DeBolt said.
According to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, or CASAA, there is no evidence e-cigarettes are marketed to minors, though DeBolt said 82 percent of Oregon youth ages 12-17 have reported seeing e-cigarettes in advertisements.
CASAA supports legislation to ban selling e-cigarettes to minors, but opposes legislation to ban indoor use of vaporizers. Alex Clark, the organization’s legislative director, said expanding the Indoor Clean Air Act ultimately deters people from using smoke-free alternatives.
CASAA says approximately 80 percent of people who use a vaporizer daily have completely switched to e-cigarettes from tobacco, and of those more than 90 percent reported health benefits after switching. In Umatilla County, 22.4 percent of adults are smokers.
DeBolt said the notion of using vaporizers to quit smoking is a marketing tool for the industry. She said banning vaporizers and e-cigarettes indoors is another tool the state and county can use to encourage healthy lifestyles.
“We’re utilizing policy change to discourage unhealthy behavior and promote healthy behavior,” she said. “Hopefully this will add just one more layer.”
Umatilla County Undersheriff Jim Littlefield said he cannot recall a single complaint of e-cigarettes being used indoors, and doesn’t expect that it will become an issue for police after the new law goes into effect.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.