Hundreds of Utah high school students were recently taken out of school and bused into the State Capitol to lobby for an eye-watering 86 percent tax increase on e-cigarettes.
Utah teens from several anti-tobacco and anti-e-cigarette groups gathered at the state capitol Wednesday to support bill HB333 and a similar measure that would levy a tax on vapor products and direct the revenue to expanding Medicaid.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who is sponsoring HB333, has been a consistent opponent of e-cigarettes, arguing for higher taxes and tighter regulations. A third bill co-sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Herber and Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake City would raise the legal age for buying e-cigarettes from 19 to 21.
One of the groups present at the rally was Students Against Electronic Vaping (SAEV). SAEV’s president and student body president at Davis High Cade Hyde, said members of his group have “all seen friends that have become addicted to nicotine,” reports Deseret News. “Kids really see this as a problem,” he added.
The Utah Tobacco Free Alliance co-hosted the rally with students from anti-tobacco lobby group OUTRAGE!.
But the anti-vaping activists were not the only ones who made their voices heard. E-Cigarette and tobacco harm reduction advocates held a silent protest with signs reading “I vape, I vote.”
It “was a silent demonstration for all the lives that will be lost” if the trio of anti-vaping measures hit the statute books, said Director of The Utah Smoke-Free Association Aaron Frazier.
The children and their minders demanding sky-high e-cigarette taxes were so dismayed by the silent protest that they tried to block out the counter-demonstration and demanded the sheriff remove them from the building, claiming they were causing a disturbance.
But after Jeff Stier, head of the risk analysis division at the National Center for Public Policy Research, spoke to the state’s attorney, the state decided not to eject the pro-e-cigarette demonstrators from the building.
Stier worries that draconian taxes on e-cigarettes would hit the pockets of vapers trying to quit and would act as a disincentive to those smokers thinking about switching.
“There is a risk of kids using them no matter what the laws are, but there are tremendous benefits to the public health with these products,” said Stier.
Stier also said in a TV interview that he was disappointed the government was using children to “advance a political agenda to take away the right of adult smokers to switch to dramatically less harmful products and tax them out of existence.”
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