SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are again considering whether to tax e-cigarettes.
When the Legislature passed HB415 this year, the law tightened regulations on e-cigarette products by requiring a license to sell e-cigarette products and outlining criminal penalties for vendors who violate license requirements.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, sponsored the bill and had originally contemplated implementing a tax in the bill early in the session, but it was ultimately not included in the passage of HB415.
The Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee was then tasked to consider such a tax, and the committee continued the discussion to Thursday.
John Valentine, Utah State Tax Commission chairman, said the Legislature would have to choose from multiple options before drafting a clear policy, including whether to tax only products containing nicotine, such as the e-cigarette liquids, or all e-cigarette products — from the devices to the nicotine-free liquids.
"You need to make that policy call," Valentine said, recommending lawmakers meet with those in the e-cigarette industry and health advocates to determine the best course of action.
While no lawmaker voiced a firm opinion on whether the state should or shouldn't tax e-cigarette products, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, wondered whether a tax would discourage Utahns from purchasing devices that could be a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.
Aaron Frazier, executive director of Utah Smoke-Free Association, said his organization was built upon an objective to reduce harm to smokers and smokers' families. He said vaping products are indeed a safer alternative.
"The best way to promote something positive is to make it easy to afford," Frazier said.
But Jennifer Dailey, executive director of the Utah Academy for Family Physicians, said there is conflicting data as to whether e-cigarettes are actually safer than traditional tobacco products. She spoke in favor of a tax to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of children.
"Utah has one of the highest rate of youth use of e-cigarettes in our country," Dailey said. "Keeping in mind that children are more sensitive to price changes than adults, and the demand for those products are extremely high among children, we support a tax on e-cigarettes for that reason, and that reason only."
But Austin Healy, owner of Peak Vapor in Taylorsville, said he's seen how his products have helped customers wean off of high levels of nicotine use to zero-percent e-juice, and even off of e-cigarettes completely.
"Why would we punish those who are working to get away from tobacco smoke?" Healy said. "It doesn't make a lot of sense."
The committee took no action and adjourned after a roughly 40-minute discussion. Lawmakers will continue considering the tax this summer.
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