BATON ROUGE — The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-3 Thursday to advance a bill prohibiting flavored nicotine products used in vaping.
HB 179 was authored by state Rep. William Wheat, R-Ponchatoula. Wheat was concerned with the rising use of vapor and tobacco products by younger people. He described it as being “in epidemic proportions.”
Witnesses testified about the dangers of vaping. One witness was the mother of a Baton Rouge boy who died after using vapor and nicotine products.
According to Wheat, 52 percent of high school students have tried e-cigarettes–three times as many as in a study done in 2015.
Wheat said a bill was passed in a prior session making it illegal for someone under 21 years old to buy tobacco and nicotine products. However, that has not stopped younger people from obtaining them.
He went on to say he was trying to “make sense of that and get things headed in a different direction.”
“HB 179 is not a perfect answer,” Wheat said. He added: “But it is our job to make the first step.”
He said he is mainly concerned with the flavor enhancers that entice teenagers to start vaping.
State Rep. Michael Johnson, R-Pineville, spoke in support of the bill and called the companies' efforts “shameful” for trying to get younger generations addicted.
There were some concerns expressed by state Reps. Nicholas Muscarello Jr., R-Hammond, and Joseph Orgeron, R-Larose. Orgeron asked if traditional cigarette flavors, such as menthol, would be cut as well.
Wheat said traditional cigarette flavors would not be banned. However, some neighboring states have worked toward that, he said.
Alice Cline, with the American Cancer Society, joined Wheat during the introduction of the bill. She said that they had been in communication and plan to work together to improve the bill.
Heather Hutton testified on behalf of vape shop owners. She stated that her shop is more than 20 years old.
She also said that only 2 percent of her sales were menthol-flavored or tobacco products.
Referring to the bill, she said, “It would close down all your small businesses.”
Hutton said law enforcement officials should be holding young people accountable instead of taking the products away from adults participating legally.
Hutton also said the bill would hurt those trying to quit tobacco products.
State Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, said he believes that the flavors are addicting more youth than the number those trying to quit smoking.