U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said his plan would work similar to the way conventional tobacco cigarettes are taxed, in order to discourage teens and young adults from using the products.
Wyden, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, disclosed his plan to propose a federal levy on vaping devices the same day that Michigan’s Democratic governor announced plans to ban flavored e-cigarettes in that state.
Such proposals have been derided by Republicans and conservatives as efforts to expand the so-called “nanny state” – and prevent Americans from deciding for themselves whether to use a product or not.
Proponents of e-cigarettes have called them a helpful tool for getting tobacco users to give up conventional cigarettes – or to never get hooked on them in the first place.
“This shameless attempt at backdoor prohibition will close down several hundred Michigan small businesses and could send tens of thousands of ex-smokers back to deadly combustible cigarettes,” Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said of the Michigan proposal. “These businesses and their customers will not go down without a fight. We look forward to supporting the lawsuits that now appear necessary to protect the right of adults to access these harm-reduction products.”
“This shameless attempt at backdoor prohibition will close down several hundred Michigan small businesses and could send tens of thousands of ex-smokers back to deadly combustible cigarettes.”
— Gregory Conley, president, American Vaping Association
Conley noted that a similar attempt to ban flavored e-cigarettes failed in New York state.
Wyden said his ban proposal was prompted by a recent multi-state outbreak of severe lung disease, including the death of a middle-aged Oregon user of vaping products. That person’s symptoms were consistent with those of more than 200 other cases in at least 25 states, the Associated Press reported.
But the industry group attributes the lung illnesses to “tainted black market THC products,” that it says has nothing to do with the legally sold vaping devices, according to the Oregonian. THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound that is the main ingredient in cannabis.
Wyden conceded that health officials haven’t reached consensus on the cause of the lung illnesses, but said he’s skeptical of the way the vaping industry defends its products, the Oregonian reported.
“I think e-cigarettes may be acting as an on-ramp to a lifetime of nicotine addiction,” the senator said Wednesday. “This needs to be treated as a serious public health challenge.”
Sharon Meieran, an emergency room physician who serves as a health commissioner in Multnomah County, Ore., said one pot of the e-cigarette product Juul is equivalent to 20 nicotine cigarettes, and is concerned by reports of high numbers of high school students engaged in vaping, the Oregonian reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.