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WaLeg Day 78: Committee stubs out e-cigarette tax

OLYMPIA – A state agency could set up rules for advertising and warning labels for e-cigarettes next July, if the federal government doesn’t do it first under legislation approved by a key House committee Monday.

But a key part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposal to control vapor nicotine products, an excise tax that could almost double their cost to consumers, was stripped from the bill in a major rewrite before the Commerce and Gambling Committee voted to send it to the House for a full vote.

The proposal still tries to keep the products away from minors, and would allow the state Liquor Control Board to penalize or revoke licenses for shops that sell to customers under 18. Most other issues with the devices should be resolved through federal regulations, Committee Chairman Chris Hurst, D-Pierce County, said.

The board would also have the authority to set rules for packaging, advertising and warning labels on e-cigarette products starting July 1, 2016 if the federal Food and Drug Administration doesn't. But committee members said they assumed the FDA would propose such rules in the next few months.

The state should not get in the way of adults who are switching to e-cigarettes to get away from regular cigarettes or other tobacco products, Hurst said. Nicotine is still addictive, he added, “but this is a far safer product.”


WaLeg Day 64: House panel urged to tax, restrict e-cigs

OLYMPIA – With a fourth of high school seniors in a recent survey saying they use e-cigarettes, health experts urged the state to tax and regulate the new way of delivering nicotine to the body.

Representatives of stores that sell the “vaping” supplies told a House committee they already refuse to sell to minors, and the state shouldn’t add too many restrictions or costs to a system that can help smokers quit a more dangerous product, regular cigarettes.

Scores of e-cigarette users, many of them wearing “I Vape, I Vote” stickers, filled the hearing room of the Commerce and Gambling Committee to overflowing Monday as the panel reviewed a plan to raise taxes on e-cigarette supplies and put other restrictions on the product.

“We have a new generation being addicted to e-cigarettes and nicotine,” Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, citing a study that showed tobacco use was declining among high school students, but e-cigarette use was up sharply.

The Healthy Youth Survey interviewed students across the state last fall, including 10,000 in Spokane County. Cigarette smoking had dropped for high school seniors from 25 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2014 statewide. But a fourth of seniors said they had used an e-cigarette in the past month.

“We do care about children,” said Kim Thompson of the Anti Smoking Alliance, which supports e-cigarette stores and users. “We are trying to push health, we are not trying to push addiction.”

Any restriction should not “punish” adults from using vapor products, which some users said helped them quit tobacco.

Dr. Tim McAfee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said e-cigarettes are “a major portal of entry” for teens to use nicotine and go on to cigarettes. While there are thousands of individual stories of people who say they quit cigarettes for e-cigarettes, evidence from studies has been mixed, he said.

E-cigarettes may be the healthier option for people who have tried and failed other methods to quit smoking, state Health Secretary John Wiesman said. But vapor shops should be regulated by the state “to see if what they are saying is true” about turning away minors, Wiesman said.

Sunday Spin: Shouldn’t all fields be level by now?

OLYMPIA – There is so much talk in legislative debates of the need to level the playing field that one wonders if an army of bulldozers should be dispatched to sporting facilities around the state.

Such leveling is almost always a major part of any call for tax breaks, whether it's for server farms or border-community retail stores. But the playing fields for alcohol sales are apparently the most cattywampus, judging from efforts to “tweak” Initiative 1183.

You remember I-1183, the initiative that was going to lower the price of hooch and make everyone happy by getting government out of the liquor business and letting the marketplace take control?. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

E-cigarette tax passes committee

OLYMPIA — Washington could levy a 75 percent tax on e-cigarettes under a proposal narrowly approved this morning by the House Finance Committee.

On a 7-6 vote, the committee approved a plan to tax the mixture of nicotine, flavoring and water vapor despite objections from some that the product offers a safer alternative to cigarettes and helps some people stop smoking. Supporters said the industry is targeting young people with an addictive product, and the liquid would still be cheaper than a comparable amount of cigarettes.

Under an amendment, the liquid nicotine solutions would be tax free if they were part of a tobacco cessation therapy prescribed by a doctor. The same amendment lowered the tax rate from 95 percent in the original bill. 

Say what?

Kids may say the darnedest things, as Art Linkletter once insisted. But folks at legislative hearings can be a close second. This week’s best description came from an opponent of a plan to raise taxes on vaporized nicotine, or e-cigarettes. Vaping, as it is sometimes called, is a much better choice than smoking cigarettes, Anthony McMullen told the House Finance Committee.

“It’s like going from licking dirt to eating cake,” he said. 

Will the federal government get involved in regulating e-cigarettes?

Smoking is bad, and no one really contests the "overbearing" role of government in policing where and when people can smoke their cigarettes.

But along came e-cigarettes, and people began asking serious questions: are they dangerous to one's health to be near one? Can they producing second-hand vapor that's harmful?  What about their impact on the health of teens or adults?

Which is the context for why attorneys general from 40 states this week asked Food and Drug Administration  to restrict the advertising, ingredients and sale of electronic cigarettes to youths.

The call for action comes less than three weeks after a government survey showed the percentage of high-school students who have tried e-cigarettes —which turn nicotine-laced liquid into vapor—rose to 10 percent last year from 4.7 percent two years ago.

As a recent WSJ.com story noted: "The battery-powered devices aren't regulated by federal authorities, but the FDA is aiming to propose regulations by Oct. 31 for the small but fast-growing alternative to traditional cigarettes. Federal rules prohibit the sale of cigarettes to anyone under 18 and more than two dozen

Thursday’s highlights

North Palouse Community Food Bank president Sheila Dyer assists a client last Thursday. Although the food bank is open only limited hours, Dyer will let people set up appointments for emergency needs. The food bank serves Fairfield, Rockford, Latah and Waverly. SR photo/J. Bart Rayniak

We've got items from just about every corner of the Valley in today's Valley Voice. Retired educator Chuck Hafner has thrown his hat in the ring by filing paperwork to run for a Spokane Valley City Council seat in November - but he hasn't decided which one yet. There will be three to chose from; the ones currently filled by Bill Gothmann and Dean Grafos and the seat vacated by Rose Dempsey.

The East Valley School District board voted this week to ask voters to pass at $33.75 million bond on April 26. It would mean improvements to Trentwood, East Farms, Otis Orchards, Skyview and Trent Elementary schools.

The North Palouse Community Food Bank has been quietly serving the communities of Fairfield, Rockford, Latah and Waverly since 2005. It relies on the generosity of residents and community food drives. Reporter Lisa Leinberger checked in with the third graders at Pasadena Park Elementary who have made crafts for the Iditarod mushers.

The Spokane Valley City Council voted to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and also to accept a grant to put in sidewalks on 24th between Adams and Sullivan.

Once the smoke clears

Watching Spokane County commissioners Tuesday evening as they agreed to  ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, I was struck by the fact that here you have three middle-aged male Republicans, all of whom avoided ever becoming smokers.

That's a remarkable change from my own coming of age, which is somewhat  further removed than theirs.  I could also identify with the comments Al French and Mark Richard made about living in smoke-clouded homes.  But when they recalled having to go outside to get fresh air, my memories differed.  Like a fish that doesn't realize it's wet, I was never aware that I was in a fouled environment.  That was just the way things were.

Only years later, when I was married and in my own household did I begin to notice the smell and other evidence of smoking — in elevators, on clothing, even in my wife's hair after she'd returned from a meeting or social event that included smokers.

Maybe we're making modest progress.