Legislative Updates — September 20, 2019

LITTLE ROCK – The joint Senate and House Committees on Public Health, Welfare and Labor approved a study proposal to combat the dramatic increase in teenagers’ use of vaping products, also known as e-cigarettes.


Also last week, the President Pro Tem of the Senate released a draft version of proposed legislation to restrict and tax vaping products in the same way that smoking is restricted and taxed. The legislature should act promptly, he said, because every day more young people get addicted to vaping products.


The health committee heard reports from the state’s top public health officials on the epidemic levels of vaping among young people. The Health Secretary reported that eight Arkansans had been hospitalized. Some of the people used vaping products to inhale THC, an ingredient in marijuana.


Vaping is advertised as a way to ingest nicotine, an ingredient in tobacco that is very addictive. Although vaping is often considered a safer alternative to cigarettes, and has been marketed as a safer alternative, studies are being completed that indicate vaping causes serious damage to the lungs and the heart.


The House chairman of the Public Health Committee said that Arkansas does not have the luxury of waiting on the results of research.


Vaping products are marketed to young people by adding flavors and with names like Rainbow Drops and Cotton Candy, the committee heard. The flavor additives may be safe to eat or drink, but in vaping products they are heated and inhaled, which can cause lung damage.


The Senate chairman said she had encountered a vaping product called Lucky Charms, which is also the name of a children’s breakfast cereal.


A school superintendent said that confiscation of vaping products had risen by 420 percent over the past three years, even though the products are small and disguised to be easily hidden from teachers. They are made to look like USB drives and ballpoint pens. One coach confiscated one in the shape of a fidget spinner.


A public health official from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences reported that in recent years use of vaping products among adults had remained constant, at the same that that use among young people had increased.


Studies indicate people who vape are more likely to have heart disease, she said.


While research is still ongoing being conducted on the long-term effects of vaping, public health officials are growing alarmed at the recent increase in acute cases. People are being sent to the hospital for vaping.


Public health officials emphasize that raising the cost of tobacco and vaping products would quickly reduce usage by teenagers, because they don’t have as much money as adults.


Because vaping is allowed in places where smoking is prohibited, a perception exists that it is an acceptable alternative. Also, there is evidence that some teenagers use vaping products and then begin smoking cigarettes. Therefore, advocates propose to restrict vaping under the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act, in the same way that smoking is restricted.


The legislative supporters of taxes on vaping predict that government will be burdened with the costs of treating chronic illnesses caused by e-cigarettes. In the same way, government health programs like Medicaid spent hundreds of millions of dollars to treat people who smoked tobacco.


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