SALT LAKE CITY — The use of e-cigarettes, particularly among Utah youths, has dramatically increased in the past few years and the battle between state legislators, high school students, and local proponents of the so-called “vaping” industry continued during the 2016 legislative session.
HB333, a bill that would create a hefty 86.5 percent taxation on e-cigarettes and other vaping products passed out favorably with a 7-5 vote in The Revenue and Taxation Committee earlier this month, but failed to pass the full Legislature.
Bill sponsor, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, has been working on passing e-cigarette legislature for the past three years, and unfortunately, his passionate efforts did not pay off…again.
Throughout the session, Ray argued that the use of e-cigarettes was concerning because it was having the biggest influence on high school aged kids. Ray said, “These teens are basically inhaling carcinogens, and the nicotine is likely to cause big time health concerns like cancer and brain defects.”
The heated debate over the pros and cons of the health issues surrounding the alternative to smoking stirred up statewide controversy. Local high school students, like Davis High School senior Cade Hyde, who joined Ray in the fight against e-cigarettes received various threats online.
Students say that most of the social media harassment was too crude to share. “Die. Please,” and “This makes me want to throat kick someone,” are among the milder forms of the harassment.
However, despite the threats, students stuck by Ray through the entire legislative process.
Likewise, another smoking bill, HB157 also failed to pass during the 2016 legislative session. Bill sponsor, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber, proposed to change the statewide age limit of tobacco use from 19 to 21, a bill that would have become the first in the nation to raise the legal age of buying tobacco products.
Powell, like Ray argued that tobacco products have had the largest impact on young adults in Utah. At the beginning of the legislative session, Powell said, “There are undisputed health risks with the use of any tobacco product. Most people start when they are predominately young, and in fact relatively few people start after they are 21.”
Although discouraging for Ray and Powell, vaping proponents like Aaron Frazier of the Utah Smoke-Free Association are relieved that these bills did not pass. Frazier said if the legislation would have passed, “A $20 bottle would have jumped up to about $38, and small business owners would have probably reached bankruptcy.”