Tennessee legislators are staking out their positions on vaping and writing new proposals amid the outbreak of vaping-related lung illness, which has resulted in two deaths in the state and 47 nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Rep. Robin Smith of Chattanooga is leading an effort to draft new regulations for e-cigarettes. She proposes raising the legal age to 21 and stiffening penalties for retailers who violate the law. Some lawmakers also want to tax vaping and use the money to warn teens against starting.
“We’re looking at adding, basically in code, to designate these e-cigarettes and their devices and their products just like tobacco and assign the exact same tax on them,” she tells WPLN. “I know this is something we need to do.”
But in its current form, the legislation stops well short of what Tennessee health professionals have requested. They’ve called for a ban on flavored vaping products popular among young people, sending a letter to Governor Bill Lee in October.
Lawmakers had one of their first chances to question the state’s Department of Health last week. Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, commended leaders for not taking emergency action. Holt views vaping as a good way to quit smoking.
“I think some of the states that have gone through and completely banned e-cigarettes have made a mistake and will actually harm some of their citizenry by not giving them that opportunity,” he said.
But even some in the GOP supermajority find flavors troubling.
“We differ greatly in this field,” Rep. Andrew Ogles, R-Franklin, said in the same hearing. “I do not think in any way vaping is a safe product and an alternative to cigarettes.”