Arkansas Legislators Consider Tax on E-Cig Cartridges

Photo Illustration — The School Safety Act could potentially implement a 16% tax on e-cigarette products, including Juul pods.

For some students, even a possible increase in the price of e-cigarette products will not stop them from hitting their vapes. Arkansas Senator Jim Hendren redrafted a bill Sept. 16 that tackles the issue of vaping among minors. The Senate will discuss the bill Jan. 2020, when the state legislature is back in session. 

“I hope we can come to a consensus soon, because every day we wait more and more kids are getting addicted to nicotine, and that’s just not good for our state,” Hendren said. 

Freshman Santiago Dorado began vaping during his junior year of high school. Dorado said he credits vaping for helping him remain focused while studying. The possible tax increase on e-cigarette products would not affect his use of vaping, he said.

“Vaping in high school [helped me] relieve some stress from deadlines and college work,” Dorado said.

The use of nicotine by teenagers can damage parts of the brain responsible for learning and attention, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The possible price increase wouldn’t really affect me too much, due to myself not vaping all the time,” Dorado said. “I would say that I go through a vape pod within about three to four weeks.”

The bill, also known as the School Safety Act, would implement a 16% tax on e-cigarette products, which include any vapor products and e-liquids. It would also prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in locations where the use of tobacco is banned under the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act such as schools, recreational facilities, and retail stores. 

“Rather than tackling the entire tobacco industry at once, I want this bill to just address the one with the most immediate concern, which is the vaping crisis,” Hendren said. “We would do this by taxing [vaping] the same way as current tobacco products.” 

The previous draft passed through the Senate on April 25, 2019, but failed in the House of Representatives.

“It became clear to me last year that we are getting far less revenue from taxes on tobacco products than we are the cost of taxpayers for healthcare, diseases, and effects from those to tobacco products,” Hendren said.  

The bill would raise prices for consumers and decrease business for local vapor stores, said White Oak Vapor store employee, Skyler Rucker.

“I think [the price increase] would definitely turn some customers back towards cigarettes products because the bill will make e-cigarettes a little pricier and people really can’t afford that,” Rucker said.

Freshman Ian Walters has used e-cigarettes for the past year, he said. Walters said he thinks the bill would make it more difficult for students that vape to keep buying e-cigarette products. 

“Younger people don't have a whole lot of disposable money to waste on these products, so if there’s a rise in the price, I think the bill would be effective,” Walters said. 

A  pack of two Juul pods costs $9.99, according to Juul. One pod equals 200 puffs but “individual vaping patterns may vary.”

The revenue from the taxes of the bill would go toward safety improvements for Arkansas schools, including the installation of security equipment and hiring of school resource officers. The bill would also provide mental health counselors for students that struggle with addiction.

For current University of Arkansas students wanting assistance in changing their lifestyle habits, Pat Walker Health Center offers wellness coaching. Wellness coaching gives students the opportunity to meet with certified wellness coaches and health educators. 

“Students can work with their coach on outlining goals, hitting benchmarks and start moving towards a smoke-free lifestyle,” Zac Brown, Assistant Director of Communications Pat Walker Health Center said. 

Coaching sessions offer students an introduction to alternative methods of quitting smoking, behavioral group therapy sessions or medical treatment, Brown said.  

Twelve deaths linked to vaping have been confirmed. There were two in California and Kansas, and one each in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri and Oregon, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.

The CDC reports that “the specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping, remains unknown at this time.”

During the ongoing investigation, the CDC recommends that e-cigarette users consider refraining from using e-cigarettes and vaping products, particularly those containing THC, a bulletin from the CDC said.

“I feel like the people who are trying to take action against the deaths from vaping are unaware that all of the deaths that have been linked with vaping are mostly THC (cartridges),” Walters said. 

“Despite the number of deaths linked with vaping, I think it does not compare to the number of deaths linked to lung cancer that has been caused through the use of cigarettes and gum cancer through chewing tobacco,” Walters said.

Elyse Cano is a staff reporter for The Arkansas Traveler.

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