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A bill that would increase regulation on electronic cigarettes awaits action in the full House.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield's HB112 would create restrictions on e-cigarettes similar to tobacco regulations, prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes without a license and selling to people under 19. If passed, Utah would become the first state in the nation to regulate e-cigarettes.
At the center of a committee hearing earlier in the week was children's use of the new devices, which have increased rapidly according to pediatrician Kevin Nelson, who spoke in support of the bill. Rates of e-cigarette use in the state have tripled since 2011, he said.
Nelson said he sees children who are already addicted to tobacco products and that e-cigarettes are the preferred tobacco product of children. He also said that children who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke conventional cigarettes later on.
"Utah children are smoking e-cigarettes at rates that are epidemic," Nelson said. "Our children are hung out to dry in the sense that no one is looking out for them, and this is new enough that the medical community is in shock from this use data."
Supporters of the bill also testified that e-cigarette marketing largely targets children because the nicotine-dispensing devices are often candy-flavored.
Opposing the bill were owners of e-cigarette companies in the state as well as members of the public, who said the proposed regulations might be premature.
Terry Sellers, an Orem-based physician certified in addiction medicine, said he believes the regulation will not be effective in reducing e-cigarette use among minors.
"There simply isn't the research out there to jump ahead and start legislating against e-cigarettes," Sellers said. "It appears to me that this bill might put the cart out in front of the horse."
Aaron Frazier, director of Utah Vapers Association, said the 30 Utah e-cigarette retailers and manufacturers he represents feel some responsibility for youth access to e-cigarettes. But he said they can't support the bill because it mandates nicotine standards for manufacturers, restricting trade.