New taxes, regulations proposed for vape sales in Georgia

Parents and medical professionals urged state lawmakers Wednesday to pass a bill they say would discourage teens from vaping, while vape shop owners said the bill would hurt people who use the products to help them quit smoking cigarettes.

More than a dozen people spoke at a House subcommittee hearing on HB 864. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, would add a 7% tax to the sale of e-cigarettes, nicotine vaporizers and associated products, as well as require retailers to buy an annual license in order to sell them. The licenses would have a one-time cost of $250 and a $10 annual fee.

Rich’s bill is one of several in the state legislature that aim to regulate vaping, a growing practice that has been touted as an alternative to smoking. Vaping has also been linked to multiple deaths in recent months. Unlike tobacco, there are no taxes on vaping besides state and local sales tax, and there is no state law restricting purchasing by age. Bills in the House and Senate have been filed to increase the purchase age for both vape products and tobacco to 21.

Vaping has far outpaced cigarettes in popularity among teenagers. According to the CDC, 28% of high school students reported using an e-cigarette or vape within 30 days of a 2019 survey. 6% of high schoolers reported smoking cigarettes in the same time frame.

Parents and medical professionals spoke about the problems vaping has caused for their children. Amy Sedgwick, a nurse at Northside Hospital, said her 17-year-old son has experienced three lung collapses in six months after vaping frequently for a year. Lee Church, a Hiawassee doctor and representative of the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians, said the tax could be an additional deterrent for teens.

“While I’m not necessarily a fan of taxes … I support taxing vaping products,” Church said. “I’m here as a selfish dad — I don’t want it to be easy for my kids to get started on this stuff early — and I’m here as a family physician who sees every day the burden that smoking creates on your system.”

Proponents of HB 864 largely focused on the dangers of vaping for teens, despite the bill not addressing purchasing age. HB 909, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, would set that age at 21. A similar age restriction bill, SB 298, has already passed a Senate committee.

Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, suggested adding the age restriction to Rich’s bill as well to increase the chances of it being enacted.

“We need that age in here in case those two bills don’t come together,” Buckner said at the hearing.

Five vape shop owners spoke against the bill Wednesday, saying the tax could make vape products more expensive than cigarettes. Cigarettes are subject to an excise tax of 37 cents per pack in addition to state and local sales taxes.

“If you are going to have a tax, it should not be more than cigarettes,” said Tara Alexander, a vape shop owner who said vaping helped her quit a three-pack-a-day smoking habit. “You’re going to force people to go back to cigarettes because it will be cheaper.”

Channel 2?s Richard Elliot was at the capitol as a Senate committee talked about toughening Georgia?s seatbelt laws Wednesday.