County health department doubles down against e-cigarettes, appeals ruling

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is appealing a Pierce County Superior Court decision last week that stated the agency overstepped its authority regarding rules and requirements for retailers of e-cigarettes and nicotine-infused vape juice that were stricter than state law.

Judge Edmund Murphy ruled that the health department regulations that limited the number of customers who could sample products at the same time while within a shop required stores to install costly ventilation systems. He also ruled that the department’s regulations that required retailers to have licenses to sell juices and products ran afoul of state law because the regulation of e-cigarettes and vape juices falls exclusively to the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board.

“This is clearly contrary to the legislative intent, plain meaning and statutory scheme of (state law), which vests the State with this exclusive authority,” Murphy wrote in his decision.

State law allows local government involvement only when the state has chosen to work with the local health departments to conduct inspections and ensure compliance with the state laws, or when the local jurisdiction believes a specific product may pose a significant health risk that requires investigation by the state agency, the judge continued in his order that granted a permanent injunction against the rules being enforced. “However, in direct violation of this plain meaning and statutory scheme, (the health department) has enacted numerous rules that allow it to engage in regulation of licenses and retail operations, and to issue penalties, without the required State involvement and far outside of the limitations…”

Murphy did, however, state that the health department acted in good faith when enacting the rules in 2015 and denied a request that it pay attorney fees and costs associated with the lawsuit against the regulations. That said, the fight isn’t over.



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