At the beginning of the 2020 legislative session, we shared with lawmakers and our volunteers the American Heart Association’s six key priorities to addressing the youth vaping epidemic. Those priorities did not change, and we have included them below as a reminder:
- Tax e-cigarettes and vaping products to ensure they are treated like all other tobacco products.
- Bring Utah’s Tobacco 21 laws into conformity with the new Federal Law
- Remove all characterizing flavors from the marketplace for all tobacco products; including e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, hookah, smokeless and others.
- Remove current restrictions in state code so local communities can find their own solutions to keep tobacco away from kids.
- Enhance current definitions in state code for smoking, e-cigarettes, Retail Tobacco Specialty Stores, and more.
- Strengthen current restrictions on internet sales of tobacco products and assign enforcement.
During the state of Utah’s 45-day Legislative Session, several of these policies made their way into bills to be considered by lawmakers. Unfortunately, by the time the session ended, very few of them passed. Others that did came well short of the evidence-based priorities our children and communities deserve.
In their current forms, two of the bills passed would:
- Allow mint and menthol flavored e-cigarettes to remain in retail stores. Nearly 60% of youth use mint and menthol
- Strip away the powers from cities and counties to come up with new, innovative ways to address youth usage of tobacco products in their communities.
- Allow retailers and others to give away nicotine products for free
- Tax e-cigarettes less than the equivalent current tax on cigarettes
Our biggest concern is that in the drafting of the current versions of these bills, the legislature, retailers, and others have lost sight of WHO these bills are for:
- 1 in 8 middle and high school students in Utah are currently addicted to nicotine because of e-cigarettes
- The vast majority of which never would have picked up a cigarette, but are now hooked
In February, the AHA conducted a statewide poll of voters. The poll showed that 75% of likely voters agree that vaping is a public health concern. The poll also indicated strong support for several evidence-based policies to address the youth vaping epidemic:
- 77% support Taxing E-cigs
- 70% support Increasing Sales Age to 21
- 64% support Restricting the Sale of all Flavored Tobacco to Specialty Stores Only
It is hard not to feel that these reforms fell well short of what the public wanted – and what our kids needed.
We will continue to work with lawmakers and the public to ensure that future reforms are meaningful and truly put the interests of kids first.
With your help, we will get there!