OGDEN — With youth vaping on the rise, the Weber-Morgan Health Department is drafting a regulation aimed at extinguishing e-cigarette use among minors.
Brian Bennion, Weber-Morgan’s executive director, told the Standard-Examiner’s editorial board that his department could no longer wait on state lawmakers to rein in youth use of the attractive new electronic devices that deliver nicotine by way of vaporized flavored liquid.
“We’ve seen an increase with our youth of over 500 percent, and as a public health community we can’t just sit by and watch that happen,” Bennion said.
Recent Utah Department of Health data showed that 20 percent of Weber-Morgan teens between 8th and 12th grade used e-cigarette products, compared to 5.8 percent statewide.
Product marketing is geared toward youth, said Margaret Kluthe, a pediatrician at Midtown Children’s Community Health Center in Ogden.
“They get very hooked by the glamorous advertising,” Kluthe said. “So they are using them at higher and higher rates, and are going on from e-cigarettes to using smoke tobacco. So e-cigarettes are actually fostering and creating a new addiction in our young people.”
Art Hansen, Weber School District’s student services director, said that a record 174 e-cigarette citations were issued this past year.
“Teachers and administrators tell me that the kids are so brazen that they’re vaping right in class,” Hansen said. Hoodies are marketed to teens with a special inner pocket to hold the device.
Utah currently prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 19. With Weber-Morgan’s proposed regulation, Bennion hopes to install new compliance checks similar to those that have proven effective in reducing tobacco cigarette sales to minors. Retailers would be required to be licensed and would also be penalized if caught selling to minors.
The regulation would also require e-liquid manufacturers to be licensed and audited for cleanliness and safety, and to be penalized when out of compliance.
According to the Utah Poison Control Center, nicotine poisoning in children has skyrocketed in recent years because they consume the appealing e-juices.
During Utah’s 2014 legislative session, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, unsuccessfully sponsored House Bill 112 to clamp down on the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.
While many link vaping to “big tobacco” — R.J. Reynolds came out with its electronic product called Vuse — those involved at the grassroots level of the fast-growing e-cigarette industry say the two camps are separate and at odds with each other.
Joe Barnett, a Michigan resident who heads up a nationwide education/awareness organization called the Vaping Militia, said their aim is to help small vendors talk effectively to local officials about their products.
“We hear that we’re marketing to children because we want to trap the next generation of nicotine users,” Barnett said. “That’s absurd. We are 100 percent not the tobacco industry.”
After 35 years as a smoker, Barnett said he easily made the switch to e-cigarettes and has never looked back.
“Everyone seems to be missing the point. There are 23 million smokers out there, even with cessation programs,” Barnett said, “and 480,000 die each year due to smoking-related diseases. The cry should be ‘how can we stop letting them die?’”
The Utah Vapers website, www.utahvapers.com, lists “certified vendors” in the state who have agreed to prevent youth access to their products and also have committed to installing food or laboratory grade production facilities that ensure proper safety and sanitation in the manufacturing of the liquids.
Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.
This Monday at 4 p.m. the Weber-Morgan Health Board will introduce a new electronic cigarette regulation that includes a compliance check program, licensing fees for retailers who sell the products, and penalties for those who sell to minors.
In an effort to reduce nicotine poisoning of children, the draft regulation also includes a new license for manufacturing the flavored liquids, site inspections for cleanliness and safety, and penalties for non-compliance.
A public hearing on the matter will be set for a later date.
Where: Weber Morgan Health Department, 2nd floor, 477 23rd St., Ogden