Lawmakers will again consider raising taxes on e-cigarettes


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Perhaps the second time will be the charm.

State Rep. Paul Ray introduced a bill Monday that will increase the tax on e-cigarettes (vaping) to 86.5 cents per dosage.

A similar bill last year had the tax greatly reduced in committee, then the bill died on the House calendar the final day of the 2018 session.

Imposing 86.5 cents on vaping roughly equates to the same state tax on tobacco products.

So Ray, who has led various efforts in the past to increase the tax on tobacco cigarettes and fund smoking cessation programs, is back again this session.

You can read HB252 here.

Ray, R-Clearfield, is a health conscience lawmaker who used to be a circus trapeze performer and has had several serious heart operations. Getting teenagers off smoking tobacco, and now vaping, has been one of his main legislative goals.

The bill sets up a store-licensing requirement for vaping outlets, and then set the specific tax on vaping products.

While people who use vaping products do not inhale tobacco, they can still be susceptible to terrible cancers via vaping, said Ray.

Vaping products are specially designed to deliver nicotine, which is an addictive chemical/drug, also part of tobacco use, says Ray.

However, Lewie Lambros, owner of Vapor Dreams in Bountiful, says the bill is bad public policy, unneeded and could bankrupt the legal business of vaping.

Ray doesn’t have a fiscal note yet on this year’s bill, but last year an 86.5-cent vaping tax would have raised $6.4 million annually.

As co-chair of the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee, Ray said it is his intent that all of that money would go into health-related budgets, with $2 million going to local county health departments.

Vaping, said Ray, can cause “popcorn” lung, blisters on lung tissue that can turn into cancers.

The vaping industry has not been truthful about the bad health effects of the practice, he maintains.

Lambros says several well-known health publications just last year published studies that show vaping is a beneficial alternative to smoking tobacco to get nicotine.

One said vaping has proven to be 95 percent safe, Lambros said.

Ray’s bills are just a “sin tax” aimed at harming the industry. In Pennsylvania a few years ago a 40 percent tax ended up with 100 vaping stores closing.

Ray’s tax is twice that 40 percent, and so could seriously harm Utah’s vaping legal businesses, said Lambros.

Vaping liquid comes in dozens of flavors, and it is those flavors that appeal to underage vapers – under 19 years old, said Ray.

The Utah pro-vaping industry has split into two factions, said Ray. One is more reasonable, and while not supporting his bill, wants to work with him, he said.

The other, not so much.

Andy Stephenson, lobbyist for one of the groups – Utah Smoke Free Association, to which Lambros belongs — says his industry has offered several alternatives to Ray’s legislation in years gone by, but lawmakers didn’t seem interested in any of them.

Ray says several years ago after the Legislature slapped a $1 per pack tax on tobacco cigarettes,  teenage smoking dropped off dramatically – thus proving that high taxes do, in fact, deter smoking among the young.

Ray believes the same will happen with underage vaping – teenagers just don’t have that kind of money.

Stephenson, however, says most teenage vapers get their products online, bypassing attempts at taxation and regulation. There are other, better, ways to deal with underage vaping, says Stephenson.

Ray’s bill “does not make sense,” said Lambros, and fear that vaping is a serious health problem “is untrue.”