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E-cigarette bill vaporized when time in legislative session ran out

Published: Friday, March 14 2014 5:55 p.m. MDT

After 10 substitutions and multiple debates throughout the legislative session, a Utah bill looking to regulate electronic cigarettes was extinguished late Thursday night after a After 10 substitutions and multiple debates throughout the legislative session, a Utah bill looking to regulate electronic cigarettes was extinguished late Thursday night after a "mad dash" to push it through. (Frank Franklin II, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — After 10 substitutions and multiple debates throughout the legislative session, a bill looking to regulate electronic cigarettes was extinguished late Thursday night after a "mad dash" to push it through.

HB112 aimed to keep e-cigarettes out of youths' hands and create oversight for production.

The House voted 72-0 last month to approve the fourth substitute of the bill, a version supported by Utah Vapers, a group of e-cigarette retailers. Bill sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, was "perplexed" when a Senate committee unanimously killed the bill a week later.

HB112 was resurrected in the Senate, which approved the 10th substitute and passed the bill 24-4 Thursday night. Ray said leadership had prioritized his bill and others, but, because of a mixup, the bill was heard late in the evening and passed with just six minutes to go in the session.

Ray rushed to ensure the physical bill was on the House speaker's dais for the House to concur with the amendment. The bill would have passed, he said, since the 10th version wasn't much different from the fourth.

But the actual bill couldn't be found before the clock struck midnight and the Legislature adjourned. Now HB112 sits in the House file among the bills that did not pass.

"We could’ve had the fourth substitute and passed it, but the problem was on the Internet sales piece. … There was a problem with that that could’ve potentially allowed for more tobacco sales online," Ray said Friday, noting that while current law already bans Internet sale of e-cigarettes, it is unenforceable the way it's written.

Ray said he didn't want to take that risk and that it would have been more "prudent" to let it die if the Legislature didn't adopt the 10th amendment. He said he'll file the bill again early next session.

HB112 aimed to keep e-cigarettes out of youths' hands and create oversight for production. The goal was to regulate them as a tobacco product, since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't made any determinations yet.

E-cigarettes have been marketed as a smoking cessation device, and, in Utah, they have nicotine content between 0 percent and 2.4 percent, or 24 milligrams — about the same as a full-strength conventional cigarette.

"The concern with electronic cigarettes is we have seen a 300 percent increase over one year in (Utah) youth use of electronic cigarettes," said Dr. Kevin Nelson, pediatrician at Primary Children’s Hospital.

During the legislative process, all stakeholders appeared to be in agreement that tobacco use isn't a healthy habit, especially for teenagers whose brains aren't fully developed, and that youths shouldn't have access to e-cigarettes.

The committee that killed the bill supported the effort to address the problem of youth access, but wanted to take a step back and make sure to get it right.

"We agreed with the Senate committee that the perceived problem that the bill was designed for needs to be studied more in depth," said Aaron Frazier, founder and director of Utah Vapers.

Utah Vapers, which is expanding into a trade association, is made up of about 30 of the nearly 40 e-cigarette specialty shops in Utah. The group certifies the vapor shops it includes and requires its members to label e-juice with ingredients and nicotine content.

"There needs to be an industry standard to control youth access," Frazier said, adding that his group is taking steps to resolve the issue.

In the second quarter of the fiscal year, Utah Vapers says it will start rolling out ID scanners in its retail organizations to make sure they aren't contributing to the problem.

Frazier said all the changes complicated, transformed and muddled the bill to a point where Utah Vapers couldn't support it anymore. He said he wished lawmakers had consulted him and other industry members instead of big tobacco.

"We do want to have a cooperative relationship with the health department and the Legislature on this," Frazier said. "We want to work together on the problem. We’re both fighting for the same purpose."

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