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Utah lawmaker wants to crack down on e-cigarettes

Michelle l. Price, Associated Press

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, makes remarks during a news conference Wednesday, Rep. March 6, 20013, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Ray wants to make electronic cigarettes and dissolvable tobacco products taxable. The alternative cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution and create vapor that users inhale. Currently, anyone can buy them because they're not classified as tobacco products. Ray sponsored the bill, which would also bar anyone under the age of 19 from entering a smoke shop. (AP Photo/Michelle Price)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Utah lawmaker has introduced legislation to keep minors out of smoke shops and to tax electronic cigarettes and dissolvable tobacco products at the same rate as cigarettes.

Clearfield Republican Rep. Paul Ray sponsored the legislation, which he said removes some loopholes in Utah law and helps crack down on businesses selling the products to kids.

Electronic cigarettes, or "e-cigarettes," are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution and create vapor that users inhale. Dissolvable tobacco is finely milled tobacco pressed into shapes like tablets that slowly dissolve in a user's mouth.

Utah law bars anyone under 19 from possessing the products or anyone from selling the products to someone under 19, but because of a loophole, county and city agencies are not able to impose fines and penalties on those selling e-cigarettes or dissolvable tobacco to anyone underage.

Ray's bill would fix that and would also require the products to be sold from locked cabinets behind counters.

"These are being marketed out there to kids. They're very easy to get. So we've got to stop that," Ray said.

An amended version of the measure passed through a House committee Wednesday afternoon.

Ray said he's heard more and more stories about young people using the products, which can be difficult for parents to detect.

"If a child is smoking, it's kind of easy as a parent to tell. ... You know what to look for. If they're doing e-cigarettes or dissolvables, there's no telltale sign," he said.

The bill also classifies e-cigarettes and dissolvable tobacco as tobacco products under the state's tax code. Adding the products under the tobacco tax would raise the price, which makes the products less accessible to young people, Ray said.

A legislative analysis shows the state could see an additional $1.6 million a year by extending the tax to those products.

Ray said he hopes legislative leader prioritize the bill so it can be approved before the Legislature adjourns next Thursday.