The number of Utah kids who are using e-cigarettes is skyrocketing, according to the Utah Health Department. That’s the impetus behind Rep. Paul Ray’s bill to crack down on access to the devices by minors.
Ray’s HB 112 would restrict the sale of the vaporizer devices to children as well as establish standards for the manufacture of the substances used in e-cigarettes.
But, the biggest problem according to advocates is the booming use by school-aged children. The Utah Department of Health says use of e-cigarettes by children has tripled between 2011 and 2013. Right now about 5.9% of students have used the vaporizers while only 3.8% smoke traditional cigarettes.
Art Hansen with the Weber School District told a packed House committee room that his office confiscated 4 e-cigarette devices from elementary schools, 48 from junior high schools and 38 from high schools in the district in just one day.
He says they are quickly becoming the newest status symbols for junior high aged students.
“They are very popular with 12-13 year olds,” he said. “These devices are being used inside school buildings by students. Some kids are so brazen, they’ll even use them inside a classroom, which they can get away with because there’s very little smell to the devices.”
Proponents of the regulation say it’s too easy for kids to get their hands on the devices - they’re often purchased at shops with lax regulation standards or over the internet. Sometimes parents provide them to children thinking they’re a safe alternative to cigarettes.
That’s why, according to Dr. Kevin Nelson from Primary Children’s Hospital, he’s seeing a ballooning number of kids who have used e-cigarettes.
“Children are using e-cigs at alarming rates,” he told the committee. “The medical community is in shock because we haven’t seen anything like this before.”
Critics of the devices say they are marketed directly at children because the substances used are flavored like candy. Hansen says he’s seen it first hand.
“There are a lot of kid who won’t use traditional cigarettes, but they like e-cigarettes because they take like candy. Gummi bear and Mt. Dew are two of their favorite flavors.”
Opponents of the regulation, like Dr. Telly Sellers, argue there’s simply not enough science to support moving ahead with the ban, especially since the federal government has yet to weigh in on how to regulate the devices.
“This would be putting the cart way in front of the horse, in my opinion,” said Sellers. “I would suggest Utah would be better served to wait for the research and not jump to conclusions.”
Ray countered that the increased usage among kids is reason enough for Utah to lead out on the issue.
“We have scientific evidence that nicotine is bad for kids. We’re not touching the ability for adults to purchase these things. If we were able to go back to the start of cigarettes and put these kinds of regulations in place, we would be foolish not to.”
Ray’s bill passed out of committee unanimously and heads to the House for debate.