SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah pediatrician came to the state Capitol on Wednesday to put the weight of a medical opinion behind a House bill that would regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes.
"Utah children are smoking e-cigarettes at rates that are epidemic," said pediatrician Kevin Nelson. He said state rates for e-cigarettes tripled from 2011 to 2013.
"These are tobacco products. They contain nicotine. They are not safe," he told members of the House Health and Human Services Committee, which voted unanimously to send HB112 to the House for further consideration.
The bill calls for manufacturing regulations, requires sellers to have a license and prohibits the advertising of e-cigarettes as a cessation device. Supporters say it is designed to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of teenagers and children.
The Weber School District has confiscated 90 e-cigarette devices from elementary, junior high and high schools during the school year, according to Art Hansen, the district's director of student services.
"Those are disturbing numbers to me. And those are just the ones that we’re catching," Hansen said, noting that many students also share the devices with their friends.
He said students take them from home, purchase them from retailers, get them from adults, steal them or buy them on the Internet.
Because there isn't the same stigma and smell with e-cigarettes as with conventional cigarettes, youths are using the devices in school buildings, Hansen said.
At least seven students in the Weber School District have been caught "vaping in class" this year, he said.
"Right now our children are hung out to dry in the sense that no one is looking out for them," Nelson said.
Bill sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said the bill would not raise the tobacco purchase age to 21. He said the bill asks for regulation of electronic cigarettes to better restrict access to them by people under 19.
"It treats e-cigarettes just like we do tobacco," Ray said.
Some restrictions drew complaints during the hearing.
Prohibition of Internet sales of e-cigarettes would jeopardize a company's ability to compete on a global market, said Nicholas DeLand, an equity owner in a Utah e-cigarette company. He suggested using age verification services as a way to restrict youths.
Ray said age verification upon delivery isn't reliable enough. He also said many of the proposed regulations would be pre-empted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, should the agency complete studies and regulate e-cigarettes.
Terry Sellers, a board certified addiction medicine physician, said passing HB112 was premature: "There simply isn’t the research there to jump ahead and start legislating against e-cigarettes," he said.
Sellers said Utah should wait for the research and not respond to the "whim and emotion of the moment."
HB112 would require the state health department to regulate e-cigarette manufacturing, specifically that the nicotine be pharmaceutical-grade. Companies outside Utah would need to provide a document proving that a product meets Utah standards.
The Utah Vapor Association has implemented manufacturing standards for its members, about one-third of retailers and manufacturers in the state, according to Aaron Frazier, association director.
Frazier said he's concerned the bill will force manufacturers in and out of Utah to use specific types of nicotine, resulting in unfair trade and shut down out-of-state product supply.
Davis County has already adopted e-cigarette ordinances limiting the amount of nicotine in a cartridge and requiring a child-proof cap, Ray said.
"The brunt of this bill is not to take them away from adults that legally have them," he said. "What the bill is targeted to is minors who it's being sold to."
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