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‘We vape, we vote’: Vape shops ask lawmakers not to ban sale of flavored vapes


‘We vape, we vote’: Vape shops ask lawmakers not to ban sale of flavored vapes

Feb 20, 2024 | 11:21 pm ET
By Alixel Cabrera
‘We vape, we vote’: Vape shops ask lawmakers not to ban sale of flavored vapes
Advocates from the Utah Vapor Business Association protest in the Capitol's rotunda on Tuesday Feb. 20, 2024 (Alixel Cabrera/Utah News Dispatch)

Chants of dozens of advocates echoed through the Utah State Capitol building on Tuesday afternoon. 

“We vape, we vote.” 

“Adults want flavors.”

“We don’t sell to minors.” 

The calls could be heard stories aways from the protest the Utah Vapor Business Association organized. They asked lawmakers to move away from legislation that would ban the sale of flavored vapes in Utah. 

SB61, Electronic Cigarette Amendments, has been moving forward with wide support in the Senate. The legislation also forbids the sale of “electronic cigarette products that have not received market authorization from the federal Food and Drug Administration.” 

The bill received the first nod from the House on Tuesday afternoon, when the Health and Human Services Committee voted 9-1 to recommend the legislation for full House consideration. 

Its sponsor, Senate Minority Assistant Whip Jen Plumb, D-Salt Lake City, told the committee the bill attempts to prevent what’s currently a gateway to a lifetime of nicotine dependence for children. But some detractors said the policy not only is anti-business, but “tries to legislate away bad habits.”

“I can’t even probably quantify the number of kids who come in and are really disturbed when during their (multi-hour) stay in emergency departments, especially if it’s for a mental health related-something, they start to withdraw from nicotine. They start to ask about plugging in their devices, their vape devices,” Plumb said. “We sometimes even have to put nicotine patches on kids because they’re going through withdrawals.”

Those protesting before the committee hearing began held signs marked with the Utah Vapor Business Association logo and suggesting big tobacco is behind the legislation. 

“According to the (World Health Organization), junk food kills 11 million people every year, while tobacco is responsible for 7 million deaths. Ban McDonald’s. Ban Swig,” one of the posters read.

Plumb, a physician who works in overdose death prevention, cited local data to represent the extent of the issue. According to the 2023 School Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey, almost 69% of school-age children who vape like flavors that are sweet, or mimic alcohol, whereas, 2% liked tobacco flavors, 6% menthol and 22.5% mint, she showed in a graphic.

“I know that sounds very nannyish. I know that sounds very patriarchy, very shaking of the finger,” Plumb said. But, she added, she doesn’t know anyone with nicotine dependence who wouldn’t take back picking up the habit when they were younger.

West Valley City Republican Rep. Matt MacPherson said he was concerned about how the bill would impact businesses. Tobacco specialty shops came into existence after the state passed laws to only allow flavored vapes to be sold in establishments where only people over 21 years old could access them, he said; reversing that would effectively put the shops out of business.

“I didn’t come into this trying to shut down vape shops,” Plumb said. “But I do think there is likely going to be some business model adjustments so that we can get these flavors out of the hands of our kiddos.”

Beau Maxun, a representative from the Utah Vapor Business Association, said that the bill incentivized a monopoly for big tobacco, as vape shops exist, he said, to get consumers off traditional cigarettes.

“I will sit here in front of you right now and tell you that if this committee had the courage to ban all tobacco products, I would walk away from every single one of my businesses,” he said. “But the reality is that’s not what this committee is here to do.”

Others from the association criticized the fact that the bill sponsors didn’t take into consideration their proposals to enhance security measures to stop the products from getting into the hands of kids. 

However, others said during the public comment period that this was overall a good bill.

Dave Davis, president of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, assured he didn’t represent big tobacco companies, and he supported the bill because, among other aspects, it allows stores to check a registry to verify whether a product is approved and legal. 

“It basically just levels the playing field between your general retailers and your tobacco specialty shops. Everyone will be selling the same product,” he said. “If you have a business model that’s built on Captain Crunch and bubblegum, then maybe you have to reevaluate the business model.” 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 69% of school-age children liked sweet or alcohol vape flavors. A survey showed that 69% of school-age children who vape liked those flavors.