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29 percent tax increase on vaping products moves forward at Utah Legislature

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker's bid to slap an 86.5 percent tax increase on vaping products was muted Wednesday by a House committee, which recommended a 29 percent tax hike instead.

"We have an epidemic among our youth, and its called electronic cigarettes," said the sponsor of HB88, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, making his case for an 86.5 percent tax on vaping products.

Vaporizers and e-liquids do not currently have the kind of tax on them that conventional cigarettes do, Ray said. He argued that vaping is just a way to get a new generation addicted to nicotine.

Proponents of the bill argued that the tax would decrease vaping among minors.

"Increasing the price even 10 percent is … (an) over 9 percent decrease in use among youth. You don't see this among adults, but youth are particularly sensitive to price," Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, told the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Industry representatives, including Brad Parsons, owner of the VaporLoc vaping store, argued that the tax would run the vaping industry out of business in Utah without accomplishing much for youths because it is easy to buy such products online.

"Our shops basically card everybody every time, without a doubt," Parsons said.

When Pennsylvania slapped a 40 percent tax on vaping shops, "in the first six months, hundreds of went out of business," he said.

"Please tell me … any business in the state of Utah that can absorb an 86 percent tax on durable goods they bring in and still survive," Parsons said. "It can't happen."

The committee decided after some deliberation to amend the tax rate from the 86 percent proposed in Ray's bill to 29 percent to make it equal to the current tax on cigarettes.

The committee concluded the hourlong hearing by voting 7-5 to send the bill to the full House for consideration.