Washington state mulls steep tax, other restrictions on e-cigarettes

By Reuters

Mar 19, 2015 09:37 AM EDT

Washington state lawmakers are considering imposing a steep tax and other restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes, legislation the bill's sponsor said on Wednesday would be the toughest in the nation.

The bill is the latest effort by lawmakers across the country to address concerns over the health impacts of e-cigarettes, also known as vapor cigarettes or vapes, which are not lit like regular cigarettes, but do generally release nicotine in a heated liquid.

"Many people, particularly teenagers, are being misled into believing these items are safe," said state Representative Gerry Pollet, sponsor of the Washington bill. "You deserve to know what toxic and carcinogenic chemicals are in e-cigarettes," the Democrat said.

The legislation is part of a nationwide push by health advocates to tighten controls and labeling on e-cigarettes and cut down on an increasing number of young people using the products, which are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

At least 41 states have passed laws prohibiting sales of electronic cigarettes to minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Other states and the federal government are considering bans on the sale of vape flavorings, like bubble gum and chocolate, that could be attractive to minors.

California and Delaware are looking to add the items to its list of tobacco products, which would bar their use in public spaces.

The Washington proposal goes a step further by subjecting e-cigarettes to the same 95 percent sales tax in place for regular tobacco products.

Currently only North Carolina and Minnesota have laws taxing e-cigarette products, and in both states the rates are lower than taxes on tobacco items.

Ohio Governor John Kasich has proposed adding a $33.75 tax to 30-milliliter bottles of liquid nicotine, nearly tripling its price.

The Washington bill would ban flavorings and Internet sales, and require ingredients to be listed on labels.

"It's an all-in-one piece of legislation," said Karmen Hanson, NCSL's program manager.

The American Vaping Association said taxes like those proposed in Ohio and Washington would make it more difficult for traditional cigarette smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, which supporters say are a safer alternative.

"It's irresponsible," said association president Gregory Conley. "You're literally doubling, tripling the price," he said.

The bill is expected to come to a vote in Washington's assembly in coming weeks. If it passes, it might face stiffer resistance in the Republican-led Senate.

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