Lawmakers aim to add taxes, regulations to deter youth vaping

Georgia lawmakers are considering a new tax and stiffer penalties related to vaping devices like e-cigarettes that have become popular among young people. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

One proposed state law aims to slap a new tax on vaping products and license sellers who deal in the products.

Another would stiffen the criminal penalties when adults distribute e-cigarettes or vaping products to anyone under 21. And these state laws follow a temporary federal ban on flavored vaping products earlier this month as the use of the nicotine delivery systems among high school and middle school students exploded the past two years.

Rep. Bonnie Rich, a Suwanee Republican, filed House Bill 864 on Thursday that aims to impose a 7% excise tax on vaping products as well as set a $250 licensing fee for businesses that sell them. Meanwhile, state Sen. Renee Unterman, a Buford Republican, is pressing legislation to stiffen the penalties for adults who provide minors with tobacco and vaping products and electronic cigarettes.

Both proposals are in flux as state lawmakers work to keep up with the quickly shifting federal rules and hardening attitudes against vaping products that sellers promote as a safe way to quit tobacco cigarettes.

“The (excise tax) is something that might be changed as people with more experience on our state and local taxes weigh in,” Rich said. “Right now, it just imposes a 7% excise tax on the retail sales amount, but there is discussion of taxing different types of products.”

Vaping devices are used to inhale nicotine-infused liquids or sometimes other substances like THC. A younger generation that shuns cigarettes at higher rates than their parents and grandparents are instead favoring e-cigarettes and a variety of vaping devices.

More than 3.6 million middle and high school students used vaping products in 2018, marking a large increase from the year prior, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration study.

In response, a growing number of states enacted new regulations, and in December the federal government set new policies that raised the age to 21 for anyone to buy or use tobacco and vaping products.

Meanwhile, lawsuits and health controversies surrounding vaping are challenging the expansion of vaping that prompted a major investment by tobacco company Altria, which bought a third of the popular Juul operation, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Unterman, a nurse and one of the state Senate’s health experts, said she’s now aligning her Senate Bill 293 to match those new federal policies. Her bill, which was filed before the Trump administration changed rules on flavors and age limits, already included the 21-age limit.

“It’s very difficult for the states to keep up with the feds because it’s a moving target,” Unterman said. “It’s probably going to change dramatically the time we get out of the session.”

Her legislation makes it a felony for adults who sell or provide anyone under the age of 21 with tobacco and vaping products after multiple offenses.

She also wants to add vaping and tobacco into the drug and alcohol awareness education programs in Georgia’s public schools.

“Vaping is targeting much younger people like middle schoolers,” she said.

The new federal policy bans fruit, candy, and dessert flavors in e-cigarette cartridges.

Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Marietta Republican who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, said she still supports state legislation that would ban vaping flavors.

“The federal government put a ban on flavors, but it’s not the law so it could be changed,” Cooper said. “Our parents of school-aged children are very concerned, especially about the flavors because that’s what’s attracting young people.”

Unterman’s bill is set for a vote next week by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, which heard testimony Thursday from representatives of vaping seller’s interests.

E-cigarette advocacy group The Georgia Smoke Free Association supports the age increase, but there’s concern about banning some flavors, president David Higginbotham said.

“Unflavored products do not help,” he said. “They will not get anybody off cigarettes.”


Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.