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News-Sentinel Editorial: Vaping policies require balanced approach

A Columbia City family physician is urging Indiana lawmakers to levy a tax on vaping liquids to discourage the use of electronic cigarettes overall in the wake of recent illnesses of users reported across the country.

We think federal regulations on the ingredients in vaping products should be established rather than penalizing adults with a tax for using them.

Our preferred first response to preventing youth from vaping would be to raise the age for purchasing vaping products. Another solution would be to ban the wide variety of flavors that makes them so attractive to youth.

Indiana State Medical Association President Lisa Hatcher of Columbia City said many teenagers think they are “using candy” when they use flavored vaping liquids.

We have consistently urged restrictions on vaping for youth, including raising the age for use of e-cigarettes as well as tobacco products from 18 to 21, because underage vaping has reached epidemic levels. In a government survey, more than 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month despite federal law that bans sales to those under 18.

Since March, however, about 1,300 people have suffered from vaping-related diseases across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 75 such cases in Indiana. As many as 26 have died in the U.S., including three in Indiana.

The illnesses, which affected people of all ages using products with nicotine as well as THC (the ingredient in marijuana that causes a high), include symptoms such as severe shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain. The causes of the illnesses remain unclear, and it’s difficult to know what those products contained due to the lack of any uniform regulation.

More than a dozen states are already taxing vaping liquids, and Hatcher said, according to The Associated Press, “We need to get on that bandwagon, and we need to do this urgently.”

A proposal for a vaping tax went before the Indiana Legislature earlier this year, but failed. Senate health committee Chairman Ed Charbonneau sponsored the vaping tax bill last session. The Legislature discussed imposing a 20 percent tax on vaping liquids with the idea of reaching a tax level similar to the state’s 99.5 cents per-pack cigarette tax. Another proposal, according to AP, would have set a tax of 4 cents per-milliliter of vaping liquid.

The legislative committee may vote Friday on whether to recommend adopting a vaping tax, but any legislation would have to win approval during the 2020 session that begins in January.

Charbonneau said he was considering legislation to limit vaping flavors. “It raises the question: are the flavored vaping materials directed at helping people stop smoking or creating new vapers?” Said the Republican from Valparaiso.

The fact is, according to the CDC, 21.8 percent of adults in Indiana smoked tobacco in 2017 — the seventh highest rate in the country. The Indiana State Department of Health reports 18.5 percent of high school students had vaped in the past month in 2018, an increase of 8 percent from 2016. The CDC believes e-cigarettes attract kids and introduce them to high levels of nicotine, which could potentially get them hooked on tobacco products in the future.

We pointed out last month that e-cigarette maker Juul has taken a series of voluntary steps to blunt its attraction to youth, including halting retail sales of several flavors and shutting down its social media presence.

We think those kinds of restrictions along with increasing the minimum age for users to 21 might be effective in targeting our youth without penalizing adults who are benefiting from the use of vapes in their efforts to stop smoking tobacco.

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