SALT LAKE CITY — Two Utah lawmakers intend to make the latest ruling from the state health department a permanent solution to curb teen access to electronic cigarettes.
“We’ve recently learned, in general, that vaping is not safe, and if it is not safe for adults, it’s definitely not safe for children, so we ought to do something to make it less available to them,” Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said Thursday.
He and Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, plan to revive a bill they tried to pass earlier this year that is very similar to Wednesday’s emergency ruling issued by the Utah Department of Health, which limits the sale of all flavored cartridges to specialty smoke shops. The department announced Thursday that it would delay enforcement of the new rule by two weeks, giving retailers until Oct. 21 to comply.
“We have to protect our kids,” said Dailey-Provost, the proposed bill’s chief sponsor. She is encouraged because the bill has had support from both Utah Republicans and Democrats.
Dailey-Provost is not proposing an all-out ban on e-cigarettes, as she believes adults can make their own decisions, even if the devices aren’t proven to be successful for smoking cessation.
However, business owners have a different opinion, and some say even the rule could harm their bottom line.
“Adults like candy as well, and a lot of these flavors is what got them off of cigarettes, which we know kills over 400,000 people a year in the United States alone,” said Kevin Henrie, owner of Rebel Goat Vapors, in Salt Lake City. He estimates a mere 2% of his customers prefer unflavored tobacco products for vaping and roughly 65% of his business is selling e-juices.
“It would essentially turn our customers elsewhere,” Henrie said, adding that he’d be “out of this business.”
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, proposed weeks ago that he would like to ban the sale of flavors completely. Now he’s wanting to get rid of e-cigarettes altogether, despite what it might do to the business.
“The safest, best thing to do for public policy is to ban vaping altogether,” he said. “There’s nothing safe about it.”
A recent report published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that many of the cases of hospitalized people who vape have chemical burns on their lungs, which Ray said is evidence that e-cigarettes are more harmful than even he previously thought. “It’s the flavors that addict kids,” he said, but, “it’s a lot more than kids we’re worried about. This is a public health issue.”
Vaping is not harmless and can result in addiction and adverse medical consequences.
–Dr. Stephen Hren, principal at Grand County High School
In addition to increased use among teens, Grand County School District officials reported on Thursday that devices confiscated from their students have tested positive for methamphetamine.
“We would like students, parents and community members to be aware of the risks of vaping and that devices and/or vape juice can contain any number of substances,” Dr. Stephen Hren, principal at Grand County High School, said in a statement. He said vape users have no way of knowing what substances they’re inhaling, what their reaction could be, or the dangerous and addictive effects.
“Vaping is not harmless and can result in addiction and adverse medical consequences,” Hren said.
As of Monday, 71 cases of vaping-related lung disease have been reported in Utah and the Utah Department of Health is investigating 10 more. The agency believes unregulated cartridges may be to blame, as they likely contain materials unknown to the user.
“It’s appalling. It’s shocking,” Ray said, adding that the black market is likely responsible for selling such potentially harmful and addictive substances.
“I’ve been worried about this for the past five years,” he said, adding that vendors can “fill it with anything they want to.”
Thurston and Dailey-Provost don’t think the health of children is worth trading.
“The harm to children outweighs the benefit,” Dailey-Provost said.
Taking e-cigarettes off the market completely, she adds, doesn’t solve the problem. “Kids will still get them.”
Putting the enticing flavors out of reach to anyone under the age of 19, Thurston said, will limit access and avoid pushing people of legal age, who want to use e-cigarettes, to the black market or internet sales.
“We want to be careful not to create a whole new marketing channel that we have no control over,” he said. Any federal restrictions imposed would obviously overrule state regulations.
Limiting the sale of flavors to licensed specialty smoke shops in Utah, Thurston said, would require patrons to show identification, be of age, and not be subject to flashy advertising or displays that might influence them, which are already specifications regulated by the state’s health department.
“It’s become an epidemic,” he said. “We had made so much progress with teen nicotine use, including that it was not socially acceptable — it was something that kids just didn’t do, or very few kids did. For the most part, nicotine use among kids has become socially acceptable among kids again ... and it leads to all sorts of problems downstream.”
He wants to get back to healthier times, when fewer teens were OK with using tobacco.
“I think it is reasonable to inconvenience adults to help kids,” Dailey-Provost said.
Their bill will show up later this year, and, among others on the same topic, it is likely to be heavily discussed in the Utah Legislature’s upcoming general session.
Contributing: Mike Anderson, Dan Rascon