Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signs bills meant to curb youth vaping

Gov. Gary Herbert has put his signature on a pair of bills to tax and regulate e-cigarettes, measures that were designed to prevent youth vaping but didn’t go as far as some health advocates would’ve liked.

One of the bills will impose a new 56% tax on electronic cigarettes at the wholesale level, generating an estimated $24 million in annual revenue for education and enforcement efforts on vaping. The second will take most flavored e-cigarettes out of convenience stores and restrict them to specialty tobacco shops, where customers will, like bar patrons, have to scan their driver licenses near the entryway.

However, some lawmakers and advocates engaged in the fight against teen vaping said the pair of bills fell short in many areas. They were disappointed, for instance, about an exemption that will permit mint, menthol and tobacco e-cigarette flavors to remain on convenience store shelves.

Mint is a flavor of choice for many teen e-cigarette users, and advocates argue leaving these products in convenience stores and gas station shops will keep them accessible to youth.

The new legislation also seeks to eliminate loopholes that have allowed some vape shops to operate under the radar and without as much state oversight. However, it gives these stores a couple of years to come into compliance — and lawmakers including Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, were frustrated these businesses will have that length of time to move away from sensitive public locations such as parks or daycare centers.

But other lawmakers and representatives of vape shops say the bills approved in the most recent legislative session are tough on the industry and were the product of talks between health groups and business interests.

Herbert signed those and 123 other pieces of legislation on Monday as he works his way through a stack of bills recently passed by the Utah Legislature. He signed another six bills on Tuesday. So far, he has endorsed 467 of the 510 bills approved in the 2020 legislative session and has not vetoed any bills.

In addition to the vaping bills, Herbert on Monday also signed a measure to continue extending a sales tax exemption to refineries that have been slower to produce cleaner Tier 3 fuel.

The tax perk, created in 2017 to incentivize production of Tier 3, was due to expire in July 2021 for companies that hadn’t yet made the switch. Three of the refineries that supply Utah’s gas stations have already converted to the cleaner fuel, while two have not.

These two slower-moving refineries will now remain eligible for the sales tax breaks until Jan. 1, 2023, so long as they can demonstrate satisfactory progress toward generating Tier 3 fuel. The sales tax exemptions are permanent for refineries that are producing the cleaner fuel.