SALT LAKE CITY -- A House committee advanced a bill on Wednesday that taxes e-cigarettes and related products.
HB 372, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, passed the House Health and Human Services Committee after heated testimony and objection from people who sell and use the nicotine products.
"We're trying to prevent this from the hands of kids," Ray told the committee.
In addition to putting an 86 percent tax hike on the priducts, the bill would also define the products in the state’s criminal codes and allows local health departments to regulate the sale of such products to minors. The bill would also make it illegal for people under age 19 to enter a smoke shop.
Ray claims the products are being marketed to children, and need to face tighter regulation.
"We've seen the local youth use rate double in the last year," Anna Guymon of the Weber-Morgan Health Department testified before the committee. "That's a substantial concern for us. Another thing related to tobacco-tax increases is it's one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking and other tobacco use, especially among youth."
Opponents accused Ray of pushing morals on people who use e-cigarettes to quit tobacco.
"You're not getting the 4,000 different carcinogens that you'd get in a cigarette," said Tad Jensen as he "vaped" outside the state capitol. "Your clothes don't stink. You don't have yellow fingers, yellow teeth. Basically, you're eliminating every single health risk and all you're getting is nicotine, which is a stimulant and no different than caffeine."
Lawmakers raised concern about the steep tax, and ultimately voted to cut out accessories from the 86-percent increase. Only the "juice," which contains the nicotine, would be subject to the tax hike. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.
"I don't feel that vaping is a nasty habit," said Aaron Frazier of the group Utah Vapers. "Nicotine, in and of itself, is not any more harmful than having a couple of cups of Starbucks a day."