SALT LAKE CITY — If Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, had his way, every tobacco company executive would face criminal charges for the way they market to children.
“This is an industry that kills their clientele,” Ray says of tobacco companies.
At a news conference held in the presence of schoolchildren, Ray outlined an initiative he is pushing to limit children from being able to enter smoke shops, as well as steps to deal with the rising use of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products.
The bill, HB 372, was passed out of a House committee with a favorable recommendation Wednesday afternoon after a lengthy debate and now advances to the House.
The bill would make it illegal for anyone younger than 19 to enter a smoke shop and would also move nicotine candy — known as dissolvables — behind counters in stores with other tobacco products. The bill would also place e-cigarette products with nicotine in the same tax rate as cigarettes.
Adding the products under the tobacco tax would raise the price, which makes the products less accessible to young people, Ray said.
A legislative analysis shows the state could see an additional $1.6 million a year by extending the tax to those products.
Electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution and create vapor that users inhale.
Anna Diamond, an official with the Weber-Morgan Health Department, spoke of the importance of the bill in helping local health departments deal with the rising rate of e-cigarette smokers among youths.
A number of people offered testimony in the standing-room only crowd of the health advantages of e-cigarettes and the help the vapor device offers for people to quit smoking and get off nicotine.
Aron Frazier, of Utah Vapors, said the new tax will chase people out of business if allowed to go forward.
Royce Van Tassell, of the Utah Taxpayers Association, also spoke against the bill, saying it places an unfair tax burden on e-smoking products. He urged the committee to put the issue out for study and also wondered why something so controversial was being introduced late in the session.
Despite its timing, Ray doesn’t think the clock will run out on his bill before both the House and Senate have a chance to weigh in on the issue. House members have only two more days to hear House bills, but Ray said he will put a priority on the bill in an effort to move it close to the front of the line.
The House will not consider any House bills after Monday, according to House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this article.