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Senate committee snuffs out e-cigarettes bill, leaving sponsor 'perplexed'

Published: Friday, March 7 2014 8:55 p.m. MST

A bill to regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes in Utah was shelved by a Senate committee Friday, leaving the state lawmaker behind the effort A bill to regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes in Utah was shelved by a Senate committee Friday, leaving the state lawmaker behind the effort "perplexed." (Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes in Utah was shelved by a Senate committee Friday, leaving the state lawmaker behind the effort "perplexed."

HB112, championed as an effort to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of Utah's youth, was unceremoniously held for future study by a unanimous vote of the Senate Business and Labor Committee, essentially ending its chances for passage during the 2014 Legislature.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, the bill's sponsor, said he was "perplexed" at the turn of events. The bill received a unanimous recommendation from the House Health and Human Services Committee, and a revised version of the bill passed the House with a 72-0 vote last week.

"It concerns me," Ray said, calling the committee's action "a vote against Utah children."

"We're not going to stop until we have some kind of regulation that's going to protect our kids," he said.

Much of the testimony Friday echoed that of the bill's House committee hearing. Nobody spoke against the bill.

A pediatrician and others in the medical field testified of the harmful effects of nicotine, the susceptibility of adolescent brains to addiction and the "alarmingly high" rates at which youth use of e-cigarettes has increased — particularly in Weber, Morgan and Davis counties.

"We have the highest youth use rate of e-cigarettes in the state," said Anna Guymon, of the Weber-Morgan Health Department. "E-cigarette use is at epidemic levels. … And in the Weber-Morgan health district, we’ve seen that 500 percent increase in regular youth e-cigarette use in two years, from 3.6 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013."

Guymon said the 20 percent use rate "far exceeds" the 6 percent use rate of other tobacco products by the same youth demographic. She said the e-cigarette use rate is also greater than the 13.6 percent of adults using the same products in the same area.

Other testimony came from members of the Davis County Health Department, Primary Children’s Hospital, Utah Department of Health, Utah Medical Association and Utah Academy of Family Physicians.

The Utah Vapors Association, which strongly opposed prior versions of HB112, showed its support for the fourth version of the bill, which no longer called for the state health department to regulate e-cigarette manufacturing.

"We do believe it is the right direction for the industry for regulation," said Aaron Frazier, the association's volunteer director.

Frazier said there are about 30 specialty vapor shops in Utah, and those he represents have already imposed standards.

Throughout the legislative process, HB112 has been modified and stripped as to what it would require and prohibit.

At first, the bill banned Internet sales, but both the fourth and eighth versions allowed for Internet, phone and mail sales as long as there was an age-verification mechanism.

The eighth version of the bill added back a requirement that the nicotine be pharmaceutical grade. It would also replaced the prohibition of marketing e-cigarettes as tobacco product cessation devices. Both provisions were not in the fourth version that passed the House.

Both the fourth and eighth versions of the bill called for e-cigarettes to be treated as tobacco and clarified that people under age 19 aren't allowed to possess, buy or attempt to buy them or related products.

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