LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ Senate president on Monday proposed a new tax and regulations on vaping products, and said he hopes the governor will call lawmakers back to the Capitol to take up the issue.
Republican Sen. Jim Hendren proposed the legislation in response to concerns about a rise in e-cigarette use among young people. The legislation would subject e-cigarette products to the same taxes as tobacco products. It would also prohibit vaping and the use of e-cigarettes at the same locations where tobacco smoking is banned.
Hendren’s proposal comes months after a similar tax bill he introduced passed the Senate but stalled before the House.
“I do believe the attitudes are changing and the sense of urgency is changing,” Hendren said.
Hendren’s proposal comes amid a rise of vaping-related illnesses nationwide. Many of those illnesses appear linked to use of cannabis-based oils, though some people reported vaping nicotine products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arkansas has had three confirmed cases, while three others are probable and four are under investigation, according to the state Department of Health. A joint House and Senate committee was scheduled to discuss the issue Tuesday.
The Arkansas Legislature isn’t set to meet again until next year, and Hendren said he hoped Gov. Asa Hutchinson would call a special session before then. Hutchinson, who is Hendren’s uncle, left open the possibility of a special session if there’s consensus among lawmakers.
“Vaping among our teenagers is a serious national concern, and we need to send a clear message to our young people that there are multiple health risks associated with vaping,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “Senator Hendren’s bill is the type of legislation that should be considered by the General Assembly either in the next regular session or at such a time when a consensus is reached.”
Under Hendren’s proposal, the money raised from the vaping taxes would help schools with safety improvements and hiring mental health counselors. The bill would also prohibit billboards advertising e-cigarettes within 1,000 feet of a school or playground. He said officials had estimated his previous tax proposal estimated it could raise between $6 million and $8 million.
An organization representing vape shops opposed the tax proposal, which would amount to a 67 percent tax on vaping and e-cigarette products. The group, the Arkansas Vape Advocacy Alliance, in July proposed a 2 percent sales tax on vaping liquid.
“A 67% wholesale tax would put all licensed vape shops in the state out of business on day one,” Bradley Phillips, a spokesman for the group, said. “No small business can afford to pay 67% to the government on everything they buy and then try to mark it up and sell it on Main Street.”