By Yereth Rosen
Alaska Beacon 

State senator tries again for e-cigarette tax and raising age to 21


Nearly six months after Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed a bill aimed at reducing youth use of electronic cigarettes, its primary sponsor is trying again to pass similar legislation.

Senate President Gary Stevens on March 1 introduced Senate Bill 89, which seeks to impose the first-ever statewide tax on e-cigarette products. The bill would also raise the legal age in state law for purchasing, selling or distributing the products to 21, aligning with federal law. Currently, the legal age in Alaska is 19.

Stevens said the bill is needed to counter a trend in the state of rising e-cigarette use, also known as vaping.

“Alaska has an active underage sales enforcement program which has reduced sales of smoking products to minors, but more steps are required to see Alaska’s tobacco use rate decline, especially among young Alaskans,” Stevens said in the statement.

He pointed to results from the most recent state report on tobacco use, released in December by the state Department of Health. The Alaska Tobacco Facts Update said that while youth smoking has dropped dramatically since the 1990s, youth use of e-cigarette products has increased so much that it nearly offsets the decline in smoking.

“This is about protecting our children from the addiction of nicotine and their ability to get access to these products,” Stevens said in the statement.

The Legislature last year passed the bill he sponsored by wide margins in both chambers. It would have imposed a 35% tax on the wholesale price of e-cigarette products.

But Dunleavy objected to the tax, citing that as the reason for his veto.

The state tax on a pack of cigarettes is $2. The tax on loose tobacco and chewing tobacco is 75% of the wholesale price. Alaska’s state tobacco tax has not changed since 2006, a time before e-cigarettes became prominent in the marketplace.

Stevens’ statement said taxes are effective at reducing tobacco use, both by discouraging youths to take up the habit and helping give adults incentives to quit.

This year’s version has a different tax approach than last year’s bill: It would impose a 25% tax on the retail price of the products rather than a tax on the wholesale price.

Stevens’ bill has four co-sponsors in the Senate’s bipartisan majority coalition, including Majority Leader Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican who is an advanced practice registered nurse.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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