E-cigarette advocates got a much-needed victory Thursday after a bill proposing an eye-watering 86.5 percent tax on vapour products went up in smoke.
After a heated debate that touched on the safety of e-cigarettes, whether they are marketed to children and how effective they are in helping smokers quit, Utah’s House Revenue and Taxation Commission declined to vote on the tax increase.
Bill HB333 was introduced by GOP Rep. Paul Ray, one of Utah’s fiercest opponents of e-cigarettes. During the hearing, Ray claimed e-cigarettes are how big tobacco is going to addict the next generation of children. Not mincing words, Ray has in the past called e-cigarette producers and sellers “the scum bag industry.”
Prior to Thursday’s decision to pass over Ray’s bill, his tax increase was widely criticized by policy scholars who argued it would harm public health by making it more difficult for smokers to switch to vaping.
“It’s disappointing. We’ve studied this to death. We know what the right thing to do is. We just have to find the courage to do it,” said Ray. “We’re not dead yet. I’ll bring it back. I’ll pound it until I wear them down.”
Bus loads of high school students supported Ray, taking a day off to campaign for the tax increase. On the other side of the debate, there was an impassioned of the e-cigarettes by vape shop owner Brad Parsons.
“I was a two and a half pack a day smoker for 38 years,” said Parsons. “It tried 30, 40, 50 times to stop smoking, patch, pill, gum, hypnosis you name it I tried it I never could. August 1st, 2012 I picked up my first e-cigarette I haven’t had a cigarette since.”
After facing numerous attacks on vapour products e-cigarette advocates were relieved they weren’t going to be slapped with an 86.5 percent tax rise.
“While we would have preferred the bill was rejected, this gives us time to educate the sponsor and others on the actual facts that separate reality from moral panic,”said Director of The Utah Smoke-Free Association Aaron Frazier.
“We agree that more needs to be done to control youth access, however, taxing an entire population to control some bad apples is not the most effective method. We have recommended for the last two years the state adopt electronic age verification at every point of sale where age restricted products are sold.”