Taxes, youth education and a crackdown on vape shops planned by Utah lawmakers

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah lawmakers are looking to get more aggressive about vaping, drafting a number of bills to regulate shops that sell e-cigarette products and warn children about the health risks.

"We know we need to do some things in the regulatory sector, we know we need to do some things in the education sector," said Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan. "We know we need to do some things in outreach for the whole community."

Rep. Pulsipher is a member of a task force created earlier this year to look at ways to curb high youth adoption rates of vaping products in Utah. The recent outbreak of vaping-related illness nationwide, including 42 cases in Utah, has prodded them to act more quickly.

On Wednesday, she updated lawmakers with a list of recommendations that include:

  • A potential excise tax -- as much as 87% -- on vape products.
  • More education in schools to warn children about the health risks associated with vaping, beginning in second grade.
  • Giving local health departments more power to cap the number of vape shops in a community.
  • Reducing the number of chances a vape shop gets before losing their license for selling to a minor.

"Right now, these shops have four strikes before they’re out," said Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield. "So we want to create a situation where one strike, where you do not ID someone is underage who is buying a juice or a vape product in Utah and you’re out."

That would lead to a temporary revocation of their license, she said.

Michael Berry, a member of the Utah Vapor Business Association, said they did not oppose some legislation being planned -- even a reasonable tax on products.

"We don’t have an issue with them regulating vapor products or vapor stores," said Berry, who owns Blackhouse Vapor Co. in Salt Lake City. "In fact, we believe in accountability and if they want to increase the penalties for selling to underage kids."

Berry said his shop always IDs customers, even purchasing an age-verification system to scan driver's licenses to ensure customers are of the legal age to purchase. He said UVBA went to lawmakers to propose an age-verification program, but were rebuffed.

"We’ve pushed for age-verification systems in all vapor shops and tobacco stores, but they don’t seem to be receptive to that," he told FOX 13 on Thursday.

Rep. Lisonbee, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said they were told it wasn't that effective.

"I’ve just been told by the health departments it’s incredibly expensive to bring online and enforce. It works better to do undercover compliance checks with law enforcement so that’s where we went with the policy," she said.

Rep. Pulsipher said many lawmakers were working on anti-vaping legislation, but most were just working to curb youth adoption of it.

"Many young people think it’s harmless and many parents think it’s harmless," she said.

Rep. Lisonbee said not all vape shops are bad actors and many are careful who they sell to.

"But there are way too many shops that are selling to our minors," she said.

But Berry said he feared a crackdown on vape shops would drive people to the black market -- which he noted was being linked to the recent spate of illnesses. He said lawmakers were looking to target the wrong people and he's been urging his customers to contact their elected representatives.

"We know smoking kills 480,000 people a year," he said. "There’s no choice for people -- go to the black market, traditional cigarettes or quit altogether, which we know is not easy. So for the traditional smoker, taking their options away is a death sentence."

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