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Use of e-cigarettes by Utah youths quintupled in the past five years and one of every 10 now say they have vaped in the past 30 days. That news had state health officials and lawmakers calling Tuesday for reforms to restrict that industry.
"You have an industry made up of scumbags," Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, said about the e-cigarette industry. "E-cigarettes are an assault on our children. ... I'll clearly state right here, my goal is to put the tobacco industry out of business."
That came as the Legislature's Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee heard a report on e-cigarette use by youths and calls for improved action to stop addiction among them.
"Experimentation and use of vaping products, or e-cigarettes, among Utah youth nearly doubled from 2013 to 2015. If you look further back and compare from 2011 to 2015 … use increased fivefold," said Janae Duncan, manager of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program of the Utah Department of Health.
She added that surveys now show, "One out of 10 Utah students in grades eight, 10 and 12 used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days." Also, 22.9 percent of all students in those grades say they have at least tried e-cigarettes sometime in their lives.
"E-cigarette use among Utah youth was more than twice as high as any of the other tobacco products including cigarettes" and had higher use "than all of the other tobacco products combined," Duncan said.
"Utah has consistently been a leader with the lowest tobacco use rates in the nation for both adults and youth," she said. "But in this area of use, Utah is following national trends and rates."
She said in an interview that among reasons for increased use may be that many Mormon youths somehow do not believe that e-cigarettes violate that faith's "Word of Wisdom" ban on tobacco. "You see many kids using e-cigarettes that would never try other forms of tobacco."
Duncan said that and the high use in general among youths may result in part "because e-cigarettes are marketed as a safer product." While they have nicotine, e-cigarettes are marketed as not having some of the other harmful properties of cigarettes. Adding to the appearance of safety is offering flavorings that appeal to youths.
But Duncan said the product and its nicotine are not safe.
"It literally wires the brain for addiction," Duncan said. "Evidence suggests that exposure to nicotine during adolescence interferes with the normal course of brain maturation and has lasting effects on cognitive abilities, mental health and personality."
She said surveys show that 23.2 percent of Utah youths who vaped within 30 days of being surveyed said they obtained e-cigarettes by borrowing or bumming them from someone else. Another 20 percent said they were able to buy them (illegally) from a convenience or grocery store.
Another 13 percent said they bought them from a tobacco or vape shop; 12 percent bought them on the Internet; 10.6 percent gave someone else money to buy them; and 10.7 percent said an adult purchased them for them.
Duncan noted that e-cigarettes currently are not subject to the same display restrictions in stores as other tobacco products. For example, they need not be in locked areas, as do cigarettes.
Duncan said sting operations by the state found that youths it sent into stores to buy e-cigarettes were successful in 3.6 percent of their attempts.
Duncan said the state could do more to try to reduce e-cigarette use by youths, including more and better enforcement but that would require more funding.
Higher taxes also could have an effect. "We know that youth are very cost sensitive, and that could definitely have an impact on youth rates," Duncan said.
"We need restrictions on locations where e-cigarettes can be sold, and prohibitions on marketing of e-cigarettes that result in youth use like flavorings and other things that appeal to youth."
Ray last year passed a bill requiring businesses to obtain licenses to sell e-cigarettes. He complained the industry is trying to turn back some of the resulting administrative rules as too hurtful to its business. He vowed to keep after them.
"These are people that are targeting kids," Ray said. "You have a tobacco industry that's killed its clientele and in another 20 years if they don't addict another generation to tobacco, they are going to go out of business. So e-cigarettes are an assault on our children."
Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said the state should consider stiffer penalties for selling e-cigarettes to underage youths and should see what other states are doing to fight the industry possibly borrowing some of the more aggressive ideas.