A proposed ordinance that would tax tobacco products used for vaping and e-cigarettes was advanced Monday night after Fairbanks City Council heard from members of the public, most of whom opposed the tax. The council advanced the item and it will be voted at the next meeting, on Monday. 

There is currently an excise tax on tobacco products in Fairbanks. The language that would be added by the ordinance would expand the current definition of “tobacco products” in city code and add tobacco vaping products to it. The ordinance was introduced by new councilmember Aaron Gibson, who was not present Monday night.

In an interview last week, Gibson told the News-Miner that when he learned vaping products were excluded from the tobacco tax he thought it made sense to clarify the language in code. Further, he said that the ordinance would bring Fairbanks in line with other Alaska municipalities that tax tobacco vaping products. He also pointed that the excise tax is not affected by either of the two tax caps and does not require a public vote for the council to adjust it.

Only one person spoke in favor of the tax. Alyssa Keill is a youth swim coach and has worked with the state on tobacco prevention and control. She agreed that a tax would likely raise vape prices, but felt this would be a move in the right direction. According to Keill, young tobacco users are susceptible to price increases, so raising the price would prevent them from buying tobacco vaping products.

Alex McDonald, owner of Ice Fog Vapors, spoke at length before the council, saying that a tax would be “regressive.” He said his business would be negatively impacted by a tax, and that he may be forced to close if he had to raise his prices, as he already competed with online businesses. Vaping products can be found online, sometimes for a cheaper price.

He said that nicotine is not a cancer-causing agent. Rather, it is the tar and other chemicals in cigarettes that are proven carcinogens. He claimed that nicotine was a chemical on par with caffeine in terms of safety.

Recent deaths associated with vaping were not associated with nicotine intake, but rather with a chemical commonly found in vaping products used for THC — not tobacco — use: vitamin E acetate. The Centers for Disease Control is studying this additive, along with several others.

The CDC website associated with vaping injuries states, “Many different substances and product sources are still under investigation, and it may be that there is more than one cause of this outbreak.”

Eric Vargason is a man who vapes. “Vaping saved my life,” he said. He and Roger Gurney both spoke of how they felt healthier after making the switch from smoking to vaping. Vargason felt it was important to encourage brick and mortar vaping stores as they, “make vaping wholesome” and allowed users to speak with local experts.

“I’ve read the studies,” Vargason said, “I don’t need studies to tell me how good I feel right now.”

Gurney concurred, stating he didn’t see a benefit to the tax. “It’s all about money, money, money,” he said.

During their designated comment period, several councilmembers thanked the men for speaking. Councilwoman Valerie Therrien said her nephew vapes and that she would go visit some local stores to learn more about it.

Mayor Jim Matherly also thanked the men for speaking, saying that he, too, felt taxes could be regressive. However, he said taxes were part of life in a city, though they needed to be distributed fairly.

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