CLEARFIELD -- The Davis County health board is positioning itself to lead the way with regulations on e-cigarettes by imposing its own rules for the products sold within the county.
"Sometimes someone has to take the first step," said Lewis Garrett, director of the county health department, after outlining a lack of regulations in the industry and a concern for public health. He spoke Tuesday to the health board.
Board members approved having health department staff begin drafting possible e-cigarette regulations before their November meeting that would later be discussed in a public hearing and presented to those associated with the industry.
But Garrett emphasized that the time schedule for such changes, if approved, is about a year away.
"We're a ways from moving on this," he said.
"We are still gathering information. Hopefully the FDA will step forward," he said, referring to the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Garrett also told of working with Utah legislators on proposing statewide regulations.
"It's an emerging public health issue," Garrett said. "I believe it's a gateway. Once a person is addicted to nicotine, they probably will begin to smoke and use other nicotine products."
Health department officials presented a number of concerns they found in researching the issue.
Among the concerns are unregulated products, including source products coming from out of the country with labels that shop owners can't read, mixing procedures for the liquids used in the devices that are not regulated, and product safety.
The liquids used in e-cigarettes, they said, are a mixture of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine and flavoring.
The researchers said they were surprised at what they found, especially with inconsistencies in labeling on the liquids for the devices sold in Davis County e-cigarette specialty shops for placement in the devices.
In one instance, the amount of nicotine believed to be in a product was nearly four times the amount assumed to be indicated on the bottle, according to a graph presented.
"We expected them to be off but we didn't expect it to be off that much," said Ivy Melton Sales, community health division director for the health department.
To demonstrate inconsistencies in labeling on the liquids sold in specialty shops, health department staff purchased random samples of the products labeled as having certain measurements of nicotine.
They noticed that no unit indicators were present on the labels.
After establishing with shop owners that the general belief was that the amount of nicotine was believed to be measured in milligrams per milliliter, they compared the measurements indicated on the labels and the amount of nicotine actually found in the products when taken to a laboratory.
All samples were found to have excess nicotine to what was indicated on the label. The sample believed to have no nicotine was found to have a trace amount, believed to have come from cross contamination when the same equipment was used for mixing.
Rachelle Blackham, waste management and environmental response bureau manager for the health department, said when that sample was discovered to have nicotine in it, researchers then pinpointed products labeled as having no nicotine.
Nine additional samples were taken in Davis County of products labeled to have zero nicotine. Seven of them proved not to have any nicotine, Blackham said. But one proved to have 2.4 milligrams per milliliter, the same as in a normal cigarette, and one proved to have one milligram per milliliter, the same as in a light cigarette.
"If people, adults, want to use these products, they ought to know what they are buying," Garrett said.
Also of concern among Davis County health officials with the e-cigarettes is the possibility of children being poisoned by the products.
Melton Sales said there are currently no child-protective lids and when researchers purchased the products, some of them leaked out in their purses.
She also showed slides of conditions used in the mixing of the products that officials indicated could be cleaner and more organized, like what is required in the food service industry.
But Melton Sales said she was encouraged by the fact that the owners of the eight e-cigarette specialty shops in the county attended a town meeting on the issue and seemed open to regulations.
Physician Warren Butler encouraged officials to take action where such measures appear reasonable, especially in areas that assure e-cigarettes are kept out of the hands of minors.
"We should assume harm until proven otherwise," he said, noting the similarities with this issue and tanning, where research on the amount of harm associated with use sometimes is limited.
He said any minor caught with such a device should be assumed to be in possession of nicotine.