The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved measures this week to tax e-cigarettes and prohibit smoking of any kind in cars containing minors.

SB 2691 would categorize reusable and disposable smoking devices and e-liquids in the state’s cigarette and tobacco tax law and would apply excise taxes on both products when sold by a distributor or dealer.

SB 2083 would “prohibit smoking in a motor vehicle while a minor is present.” Violators would be subject to $100 fines.

A sign of the times in a state Capitol elevator.

One of the bills would treat e-cigarettes like traditional tobacco products when it comes to taxation and regulation.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Trish La Chica, policy and advocacy director of the Hawaii Public Health Institute, said in written testimony that she supports SB 2083 because asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia are conditions children can develop while inhaling secondhand smoke in a car.

Secondhand smoke “also contributes to a lower immune system which can make them more vulnerable to illnesses, and even require trips to the hospital,” said La Chica.

But Nicholas Winters submitted written testimony saying “vaping shouldn’t be included in this bill,” as he has “yet to see the FDA state for a fact that it’s harmful.”

SB 2691 would would tax and regulate e-cigarette products just like tobacco.

If the measure becomes law, electronic smoking devices or e-liquid retailers would be required to obtain a permit in order to sell, possess, acquire, distribute or transport products.

Vehicles would be considered a place of business and would require a retail tobacco permit and permittees would be required to keep a record of their inventory.

In written testimony, University of Hawaii Manoa Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman and Jerris Hedges, interim director of the UH Cancer Center, said research has shown that the rate of e-cigarette use in Hawaii adolescents is double that of adolescents on the mainland.

“There is serious concern among health professionals that addictive tobacco products other than cigarettes – including snuff, chewing tobacco, loose roll-your-own tobacco, and now electronic smoking devices – are attracting a new generation of tobacco users,” said Bley-Vroman and Hedges.

They said that national research shows that there is “no safe form of tobacco use” and taxing e-cigarettes may discourage youths from smoking.

Anthony Hemsley, vice president of corporate affairs and communication for Logic Technology Developmen, said in written testimony that imposing taxes at this point would be “premature” as the e-cigarette market is still “relatively new.”

“We believe that imposing taxation on top of this could destabilize this nascent category and may well lead to an increase in unregulated sales,” said Hemsley.

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