Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Vaping Bill Heard in House

While our Senators (hopefully) were able to sleep in after their all-nighter, the House was up and about at 8AM for Friday hearings in the Finance Committee. After a few brief hearings on Senate bills, the Finance Committee paused for caucus then dived into the main event.  The photo to the right was taken shortly before the start of the hearing which was standing room only.  House Bill 2211 provides for a licensing structure for vaping products, 60% surtax on sales of vaping items, and a timeline to develop rules for licensure by October 1st, 2015.  

The hearing had 22 individuals signed up to speak, and testimony was led off by the two sponsors of the bill, Rep. Gerry Pollet and Rep. Paul Harris.  Pollet stated, "This bill is about youth prevention for the addiction to nicotine and it is about how we accomplish that which the research… shows that you cannot do the youth prevention without increasing the price of e-cigarettes.  At the 60% tax, which is paid by the distributor, even the most expensive product here would be 50% less than smoking cigarettes.”

Rep. Harris replied “I believe in economics that there is a direct correlation between the consumption of a product and the cost of a product.”  He went on to share that he “had the opportunity to talk to 60 individuals of the 350 calls we fielded in my office.  Many of these individuals had vaped for longer than one year, but all had the intentions of quitting.  Of those, 25% of those individuals were actually vaping more nicotine than when they started.” 

In addition to Representatives Pollet and Harris, WA State Health Secretary John Weisman shared his support for the bill.  “Vaping rates are skyrocketing in our high schools with 1 in 5 10th Graders and 1 in 4 12th graders vaping in the previous 30 days.  This is troubling because when kids vape they inhale nicotine.  Nicotine is addictive… and is especially so with (children’s) developing brains.  It took decades of work to change the social norms regarding smoking.  We are now seeing rapid normalization of vaping among school children.  This is not acceptable and the tobacco companies know it.”  Secretary Weisman went on to say that although the science isn’t complete on the issue, he agreed that for adult smokers, vaping is a safer alternative to continuing to use smoking tobacco products.  

Some of the Republican members of the Finance Committee were concerned that increasing the costs may lead to the creation of a black market or increases in non-taxed online sales or purchases from other states.  Other committee members and members of the public followed up on the concerns with the increased cost and how that may affect adults who are trying to quit smoking.  
The challenge for the lawmakers is to develop a series of rules to keep children away from vaping products while allowing smokers an avenue to exit the use of cigarettes.  The bill is not yet scheduled to be voted out of committee. The last day for this bill to be voted out will be Tuesday, April 7th.  There are similar bills that have also been heard in other committees, increasing the likelihood that some changes in how vaping products are regulated will occur this session.

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