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Vaping to face new restrictions, taxes in NM

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico is preparing to impose new restrictions on vaping indoors and levy a new tax on the liquid used in e-cigarettes.

The laws come as the state faces an explosion in the number of young people puffing on electronic cigarettes and legislators debate how to regulate the growing industry.

A sign inside the Student Union Building at the University of New Mexico warns that smoking and vaping are prohibited on campus. A statewide ban on vaping indoors will go into effect this summer. (Dan McKay/Albuquerque Journal)

Starting June 14, the state will add vaping and e-cigarettes to its indoor smoking ban. Anywhere smoking is banned, vaping will be, too, including movie theaters, offices and restaurants.

In July, a 12.5% tax on the liquid used in e-cigarettes will go into effect as part of broader changes to the state tax code.

Sandra Adondakis, New Mexico government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said the indoor restrictions will help protect people from secondhand vapors.

There’s also evidence, she said, that fewer kids use tobacco products when public bans are in place.

“We have a whole generation of kids getting addicted,” Adondakis said in an interview.

Vaping enthusiasts say e-cigarettes are safer than traditional ones. Legislative analysts, however, warned lawmakers this year that little research is available on the long-term health effects of chemicals in the vapor.

Electronic cigarettes are typically used to heat a nicotine solution – often flavored – to produce a vapor that’s inhaled.

Dr. Barry Ramo of the New Mexico Heart Institute has warned that nicotine is dangerous for teenagers and can affect their developing brains.

About 25% of the state’s high school students used e-cigarettes in 2017, up from 9% in 2013.

Blair Dunn, an Albuquerque attorney who has lobbied at the Capitol on behalf of vape stores, said New Mexico must strike a balance in its regulation of e-cigarettes, because vaping can help people quit smoking.

“We shouldn’t be penalizing people making the switch,” Dunn said.

This summer’s 12.5% excise tax on the value of liquid used in e-cigarettes is half of the typical 25% excise tax on tobacco products.

Kane Oueis, CEO of Oasis Vape, a retailer with stores throughout the Southwest, said he expects the new tax to raise prices 10% to 25%, depending on the product. He described the 12.5% tax as a compromise.

“This tax is reasonable,” he said, “and we can work with it.”

Adondakis of the American Cancer Society called it a “nominal” tax that won’t do much, if anything, to raise prices or discourage vaping. She and others had pushed for a 76% tax.

In any case, the fight over how to handle vaping isn’t over.

Proposals to ban flavored nicotine solutions – which critics say make it more attractive to young people – and to raise the purchasing age on e-cigarettes and tobacco products from 18 to 21 failed during this year’s legislative session.

“I know there’s still a lot we need to do, especially to keep young people from vaping,” said Rep. Joanne Ferrary, a Las Cruces Democrat and co-sponsor of the legislation that added vaping to the indoor smoking ban.

A few young people who already vape, meanwhile, said in interviews Friday that they don’t expect the indoor ban to affect their behavior. They avoid vaping inside already, they said.

“I think it’s disrespectful to do that anyway,” said Alex, a 19-year-old from Albuquerque who attends the University of New Mexico.

He was part of a small group of students sitting in the shade Friday on the outskirts of the UNM campus, as some smoked and some vaped.

Javier Perez, an Albuquerque resident who works at Frontier Restaurant, said he feels better after quitting smoking and switching to e-cigarettes. He was sitting alone as he vaped on Central Avenue across from UNM.

Perez said he’s more concerned about price increases caused by taxes than by restrictions on where he can vape.

“I wouldn’t do it (indoors) unless I got permission,” he said.

The state Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act, enacted in 2007, prohibited smoking in workplaces and other public areas. House Bill 256, passed this year, adds e-cigarettes to the ban.

The legislation permits people to smoke or vape in retail tobacco stores, but stores established after this summer will have to be located in stand-alone buildings to allow smoking and vaping.

The new tax on “e-liquid” is part of a broader set of changes to New Mexico’s tax code, outlined in House Bill 6, approved earlier this year.

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