As Washington’s e-cigarette and vapor industry grows, state lawmakers are working to reduce youth use of a product that’s become more popular among teens than cigarettes.
One measure, requested by Gov. Jay Inslee, regulates the state’s vapor market — from vaping products to the stores they are sold in. Another bill focuses on packaging and advertising to make the products less appealing to kids.
Dozens showed up to testify Monday before a House committee on both measures.
House Bill 1645 would create licenses for vapor stores, prohibit sales to minors and impose a 95 percent tax on products. Inslee says the new tax will generate $18 million a year and make vapor products harder for kids to afford.
Vape users and store owners told committee members a tax that nearly doubles the price would make it harder to quit smoking. “Please don’t balance the budget on the backs of people trying to quit smoking,” Washington Vape Association’s Stuart Halsan told lawmakers.
E-cigarettes and vape pens heat liquid until it forms a vapor that imitates smoke. Vaping liquid, called “juice” or “joose,” comes in a range of flavors and nicotine contents, including nicotine-free. Supporters say it’s an effective smoking cessation method.
Some health officials disagree. Dr. Susan Turner of Kitsap Public Health District told lawmakers vapor products are not safe and, according to a nationwide survey, can compel youth users to start smoking cigarettes. “Not only is it not a great cessation device, it may also be an initiation device,” she said.
Sen. Bruce Dammeier said safety should come before taxation. He’s sponsoring a bill to require child-proof packaging on all products. “This has got to be protecting children first,” the Puyallup Republican said of Inslee’s bill earlier this year. “There can be a discussion of taxation later.”
Senate Bill 5477 requires child-proof packaging and warning labels for all vapor products and ask school districts to ban use on school grounds. Right now, vaping packaging and advertising isn’t regulated by the federal government. Dammeier’s bill would set up statewide rules.
Washington Poison Center reports 182 calls in 2014 related to vaping fluid – most were for children younger than 3. Health officials say children are attracted to the colorful packaging and fruity flavors.
Vapor products are more popular than tobacco in Washington schools, according to a recent Healthy Youth survey. While 8 percent of high school sophomores smoke cigarettes, 18 percent say they use e-cigarettes.
No action was taken on either bill during Monday’s hearing.