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Utah health officials look to ban flavored vape products in grocery, convenience stores

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Grocery stores and convenience stores wouldn't be able to sell flavored vape juice under a potential state rule.

Flavored vape products would only be available in age-restricted tobacco specialty shops under rules proposed this week by state officials.

The draft rules, published on Wednesday, would reinstate a ban on flavored e-cigarette products for general retailers, like grocery and convenience stores. In October, a judge struck down the ban, which was implemented on an emergency basis following a spate of serious lung illnesses related to vaping.

The state had justified the emergency restriction on the popular flavored nicotine products by arguing they attract young people to vaping. That can eventually lead those consumers to the illegal THC products that were implicated in an outbreak of serious lung illnesses nationwide. As of late December, 125 cases of the illness were identified in Utah.

But 3rd District Judge Keith Kelly ruled in October that the risk of eventually switching to THC products did not amount to “imminent peril” requiring an emergency ban.

However, Kelly’s ruling did allow health officials to pursue a similar ban if they followed the state’s normal 120-day process for making new rules.

The proposal released Wednesday would allow general retailers to sell only unflavored vape products. It also would require all tobacco sellers to post signs warning that vaping carries health risks.

The rules would limit flavored products to about 10 percent of the nearly 1,700 tobacco retailers in Utah, according to the proposal. Those specialty shops are off limits to anyone under the age of 21.

About 1,300 of the state’s tobacco retailers are small businesses, the rules state. General retailers would have 90 days to sell their existing inventory before the rule takes effect.

"The statutory requirements for small businesses permitted as general tobacco retailers prevent them from earning a substantial portion of their revenue from tobacco products, therefore mitigating the negative fiscal effects of the proposed new administrative rule on their current business operations," the rules state.

A public hearing on the proposed rule will take place Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 9 a.m., at the Utah Department of Health, room 125, 288 N. 1460 West, Salt Lake City.

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