He introduced the bill following a report earlier this week said that e-cigarette use by Utah teens has quintupled since 2011.
State surveys show that one of every 10 youths in grades 8, 10 and 12 now report vaping e-cigarettes within the past 30 days, and nearly a quarter report that they have used them at some time in their lives. State health officials recommended raising taxes on e-cigarettes as a step to combat this trend.
State health officials blame increases on advertising depicting e-cigarettes as safer than regular cigarettes, although they say nicotine in them is addictive and dangerous for young people. They said it also has led some young Mormons to believe that e-cigarettes do not violate that faith's ban on tobacco use.
"E-cigarettes are targeting youth," Ray said. "When you have banana split and root-beer flavorings, they are not going after adults."
Ray's bill would use extra revenue from the tax to improve health care in rural areas. But lawmakers also are considering using such a tax to help fund expanding Medicaid to people now not covered in Utah.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said Friday that if e-cigarette taxes are used to expand Medicaid, "it creates a greater argument to pass a bill on e-cigarettes because it would have a purpose."
But Senate Democratic leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, warned, "Who becomes addicted: the state or the person smoking e-cigarettes?"
Ray said high school students have gathered 10,000 signatures in favor of his bill, and several city councils have passed resolutions endorsing it.
Meanwhile, The e-cigarette industry attacked the proposed tax hike.
"Seeking a punitive tax on vapor products is the wrong approach. It's time Utah embraced harm-reduction, instead of a regressive tax that pushes vapers back to combustible tobacco or one that creates a black market," said Shilo Platts, with the Utah chapter of the Smoke-Free Trade Alternatives Association.
"Let's focus on enforcing our current laws, and continue to work together to keep these products out of the hands of minors," he said, "while ensuring that vapor products remain a viable option for adult smokers."