Citing a rise in student use of tobacco products, Gov. Jay Inslee called for new laws to raise the taxes on e-cigarettes and limit youth accessibility.
He called e-cigarettes “a clear and present danger to the health of our children.”
“It rolls back decades of work we’ve been doing on a bipartisan basis to reduce the threat to our children,” Inslee said at a press conference on Thursday.
Inslee cited the preliminary data from the biennial Healthy Youth Survey, a Washington State Department of Health survey that polls students on drug and alcohol use, bullying and other health topics.
The 2014 results show 8.5 percent of 8th graders, 18 percent of high school sophomores and 23 percent of high school seniors in Washington state reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, according to the governor’s office.
House Bill 1645 would require licenses to sell vaping products, prohibit sales over the Internet, ensure child-safe packaging and restrict marketing and sales targeted at youth, according to a press release from Inslee’s office.
The bill also calls for a 95 percent tax on vaping and e-cigarette products, which is the same rate proposed in Inslee’s budget.
But Inslee said that price increases are deterrent to youth use.
“This is as much for a health reason, which is to reduce exposure to our children of these dangerous products, as it is for a revenue basis,” he said.
However, Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said in a prepared statement released later Thursday, questioned the inclusion of taxes in the bill.
“Our top priority ought to be protection, not taxation,” Dammeier said in the prepared statement. “These teen-usage statistics certainly are a matter of concern. Taxation is something we ought to consider separately, as a matter of fiscal policy. Our most important goal ought to be making sure our children are safe.”
Inslee also expressed skepticism about e-cigarette proponents’ claims that the devices help cut smoking traditional cigarettes. He said the claim has not been proven scientifically, and the devices have not been approved by the FDA for such use.
The press conference featured several health and school advocates, including Tom Seigel, the superintendent of the Bethel School District.
Seigel said that it’s a growing problem in Bethel’s high school campus, where the devices are already banned.
“We’ve referred 50 students this year to substance abuse counseling because of these drug delivery systems,” he said.
Sarah Bridgeford, coordinator of substance abuse prevention group Franklin Pierce Youth First, says that in the Franklin Pierce School District, students say they can obtain the devices through their friends — and sometimes parents.
“We ask the students when they’re caught where they get the devices, and I’ve had parents at a middle school say, yes, we’ve purchased that for our child,” she said.
The parents believed the devices would help their child quit smoking, Bridgeford said.
A bill that Attorney General Bob Ferguson requested this session to raise the smoking age to 21 would also apply to vaping products.
This post has been updated to include Sen. Bruce Dammeier’s prepared remarks.