Vaping illnesses in US still rising, though at slower pace

In this Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 photo, a man using an electronic cigarette exhales in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. On Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 2,172 confirmed and probable vaping-related illnesses have been reported. Cases have occurred in every state but Alaska. Forty-two people in 24 states have died.

A Fairbanks City Council member has introduced an ordinance to tax tobacco vaping products, which are not currently subjected to the same 8% tax as other tobacco products purchased in the city. 

The proposal, Ordinance 6119, is on the agenda for Monday’s regular meeting and is sponsored by recently elected Councilman Aaron Gibson and would expand the current definition of “tobacco products” in city code by adding tobacco vaping products.

Gibson said he drafted the ordinance to help raise city revenue. The city’s tobacco excise tax is one of the few taxes not subjected to either of the two tax caps and does not require a public vote for the city to adjust it. Gibson said that arguably the products should already have been taxed under the current verbiage and that “this is just a clarification.” Further, he said, the ordinance would bring Fairbanks in line with other Alaska municipalities that tax vaping products.

Vaping products, like vape pens and e-cigarettes, heat a liquid containing nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals into a vapor, which is then inhaled by the user. The products are popular among teens and young people.

Fairbanks city code currently defines a tobacco product as either a cigarette, cigar, cheroot, stogie, perique, snuff or snuff flour, smoking tobacco or chewing tobacco. Gibson’s proposal would add e-cigarettes, e-cigars, e-pipes and other vaping products to that list. 

According to Ice Fog Vapors owner Alex McDonald, an additional tax would hurt his Fairbanks business. He said a tax would force him to compete more with online businesses that do not have the same overhead as his brick and mortar shop.

“This would probably drive customers to online sources,” McDonald said.

In addition to adding vaping products to the list, the ordinance would clarify the language concerning tobacco products designed to help users quit using tobacco. The new language would limit the definition of these products to those prescribed by a doctor or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help users stop using tobacco. Products like Nicorette and prescription drugs like Chantix would not be subject to the tax.

“That’s crazy. You think they’d go after Nicorette if they’re going after (vaping products),” McDonald said, adding that these products were “an alternative to smoking. That’s what we are and what they are. It doesn’t make sense that one is taxed and one is not.”

Vaping has been touted as a way to quit smoking. However, there is some debate about the safety of these products and whether they are associated with nicotine addiction. 

Additionally, recent national news stories have described lung injuries associated with vaping. Several articles were released in late November by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA. Notably, the CDC reported 47 deaths connected to the use of vaping products. According to the FDA, more study is needed, but incidents of shortness of breath, chest pain and intestinal distress were also reported in connection with vaping. 

Should the ordinance pass, the tax would not be implemented until April 1, 2020. A vote will not occur Monday, as the proposal is just being introduced.

Contact staff writer Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572 or find her on Twitter @FDNMcity.