SALT LAKE CITY — State legislators are hoping to add to recent local and national efforts to curb the use of vape pens and e-cigarettes, particularly among youth.
The Health and Human Services Interim Committee, chaired by Sen. Allen M. Christensen, R-North Ogden, and Rep. Brad M. Daw, R-Orem, unanimously agreed Wednesday to recommend a bill that would tax e-cigarettes.
Michael Siler, a lobbyist from Students Against Electronic Vaping, said the goal of the Electronic Cigarette and Other Nicotine amendment bill is to cause youth to quit, deter them from tobacco and marijuana use, and decrease medical care costs that can stem from e-cigarette use.
He said the organization’s current projections show that 18.3%, or nearly 42,000, of Utah youth ages 13-17 use e-cigarettes and vaping products on a daily basis.
The bill would impose an excise tax of 86% of a manufacturer’s price on the sale of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products, increasing its retail price by about 50%.
“Youth users are highly sensitive to price increases and a significant number of youth will quit those products for every 10% increase in price,” Siler said.
Cade Hyde and McGyver Clark, of Students Against Electronic Vaping, called Wednesday’s committee meeting a success.
“We know that this bill is research based and there’s evidence to prove that it will work,” Hyde said.
In 2015, Hyde and Clark founded the student group while attending Davis High School after noticing the increased use of e-cigarettes among their peers.
Clark said the group had been trying to pass the bill since 2016.
“There’s been a lot of hurdles. ... One of the biggest ones is just the access to research,” he said. “Now we have news articles coming every single day from across the nation showing that e-cigarettes are a poisonous, dangerous product.”
Earlier this year, Utah became the eighth state to raise the tobacco age to 21. Additionally, pulmonologists at the University of Utah have reported an increase in pulmonary conditions that “seem related to vaping,” in the last couple of months, and have called for more warning labels on e-cigarettes and vape pens.
“It’s imperative that we get something done with this,” Christensen told the Health and Human Services Interim Committee. “We now have 17 states that have put taxes on devices to try to slow down this epidemic.”
Earlier this summer, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban e-cigarettes.
“It embarrasses me to say that San Francisco stepped ahead of Utah and took the step of actually banning vaping in the city and Utah can’t manage to do anything about it,” Christensen said.
Sen. Evan J. Vickers, R-Cedar City, said he was “cautiously” supporting the bill, and believes its education component is critical because of the ongoing perception that vaping is considered “cool.” He hopes the tax revenue from the amendment, if passed, funds education about the consequences of vaping.
18.3%, or nearly 42,000, of Utah youth ages 13-17 use e-cigarettes and vaping products on a daily basis
Vickers applauded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for making a statement about vaping and working to change its perception among the religious community. Last week, the church clarified the Word of Wisdom, its law of health, prohibits vaping and e-cigarettes.
Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, agreed with Vickers.
“The ideal is that there would be no tax revenue in the future from this, because we would have prevented everybody from partaking in such an unhealthy practice,” she said, adding that funds from the tax should be allocated to effectively reduce vaping use in teens.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, the chief sponsor of the bill, said a number of vaping studies have concluded that it’s not healthy. He predicts that as more research is done there might be more changes to limit vaping.
“We have an industry that’s going out of business because they’re killing their clientele with tobacco,” he said. “The only way to stay in business is to addict a new generation.”
Ray added, along with others, that he’d support seeing this issue in a special September session. Whether or not the bill is added to the September session would depend on Utah Gov. Gary Hebert.
Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake, said she’s dismayed that it’s taken a long time for action to be taken, but she’s happy they are getting there, adding that she and other legislators plan to introduce bills that address vaping.
“This is just one of many tactics that need to be addressed, and nobody’s hanging our hat on this as the only solution,” she said.
If passed, Utah would follow the footsteps of other states that have imposed taxes on e-cigarettes. Vermont’s 92% tax on e-cigarettes took effect in July.