This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
An amazing thing happened at the Legislature on March 3 in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Rep. Paul Ray's House Bill 333 was on the agenda, which would impose the same tax on some electronic cigarette products that are now applied to tobacco products.
It's not amazing that Ray ran the bill. Ray runs a lot of legislation dealing with health issues and tobacco. And it's not amazing that it was defeated in the committee by a vote of 7-5. A lot of bills are sent to the Revenue and Taxation Committee to die.
What was amazing was that the committee room and an overflow room and the halls outside the committee room were filled with students from across the Wasatch Front who came to support HB333. There were hundreds of students.
They represented SAEV, Students Against Electronic Vaping, a student-initiated and led group started by student body leaders at Davis High that rapidly spread to other Utah high schools. They spoke determinedly about friends they had seen become addicted to various drugs that started with vaping. Most concerning to some of us was the student who told the committee that his brother in elementary school reported seeing elementary school students vaping in school bathrooms.
They could have spoken about the studies that have raised concerns about the safety and long term health effects of using e-cigarettes. They could have mentioned the concern that some of the liquids used in vaping contain food additives that were not meant to be inhaled into the lungs. They could have spoken about how many packs of cigarettes are effectively contained in one vial of vaping liquid. They could have noted that tobacco users cost the state of Utah over $100 million in health care.
They chose instead to speak to their experiences and their knowledge that making e-cigarettes more expensive would effectively discourage use and mean that fewer e-cigs would be in the hands of young people.
You might be on the other side and would have agreed with the seven committee members who stopped the bill in its tracks. Many of them are simply opposed to taxes of any sort. Those voting against this bill suggested that better enforcement at schools and in public could put a significant dent on underage use of electronic cigarettes. You might agree with industry representatives and small businessmen that placing taxes on e-cigarettes would close the doors of some businesses and make it more difficult for some people who use e-cigarettes to reduce and break the habit of smoking.
The tax and the vote are not what amazes us. What amazes us, and makes us proud of these Utah students, is that a few civic-minded high school students decided to speak out in public about an issue they care deeply about. These students took it upon themselves to organize, gather support and utilize their rights to weigh in on important issues at the legislature. The fought for what they believed in. They participated in a way that many Utahns of any age do not.
These young people are an example to us all. We should keep them in mind as we move toward our state's caucus night this Tuesday. Regardless of party or belief, we should look to the leadership of young people and become engaged in the political process to fight for what we think is right. And we should invite them along.
We are calling on all 17-year-old high school students who will be 18 on or before November 8, 2016, to get involved next Tuesday night, March 22, in the Democratic or Republican caucuses. Seventeen-year-olds can still participate in and vote in caucuses if they will be 18 by Nov. 8 (election day). Younger citizens can and should still attend the caucuses and watch and learn how important they are in our state.
The more people involved, the better the decision. Before you leave for your caucus Tuesday, ask your children to join you. Make it a family event. The rising generation, the students, are our future. If the future is like the efforts and actions of the SAEV, Utah's future will be bright.
Rep. Joel Briscoe, Salt Lake City, represents District 25 in the Utah House of Representatives. George Chapman lives in Salt Lake City and ran for mayor in 2015.