Story by Celia Llopis-Jepsen
TOPEKA, Kansas — A proposal to ban all fruity and sweet vaping flavors in Kansas has upset both pro-vaping and anti-tobacco groups.
Hundreds of popular flavors would disappear. Menthol would remain. The flavor restrictions wouldn’t apply to traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes.
Vape shop owners say the proposed ban on flavored e-liquids would push more people to smoke. Health advocacy groups, meanwhile, want the ban to include menthol and extend beyond vaping.
Hutchinson vape shop owner Kesha Brandt told lawmakers Thursday that she got into the business after losing two family members to lung cancer. Vaping, she said, helped her stop smoking after 12 years of the habit.
“I had to quit,” she testified. “I had to make sure I was there for my kids.”
Others warned the possible ban would kill jobs and shutter small businesses.
“Out of my 400 flavors, 399 will be gone,” Topeka vape shop owner Eric Cope said.
But the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association say a complete flavor ban — menthol included — would help prevent new generations of addicts.
Smoking has become less popular with Kansas teens. State data shows half of high schoolers here reported having tried a cigarette in 2005. By 2017, that was down to about 25%, but a third said they had vaped.
Republican committee chairman Rep. John Barker voiced frustration with the advocacy groups.
“If you get 95% of what you want up here,” he said about pushing for a menthol ban, too, “you guys need to call it a win.”
Other groups that wanted Kansas to ban flavors included the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce — which said tobacco and nicotine addiction cuts into worker productivity and pushes up health care costs — and the state’s main teachers union.
“We need all the help we can get in schools,” said Mark Desetti of the Kansas National Education Association.
School districts across the country and in Kansas are suing Juul, which manufactures small vaping cartridges popular with minors, claiming the company targeted kids with its marketing.
The Trump administration has also said it would crack down on most vaping flavors, but only for the type of cartridge-based vaping systems that became popular with teens.
The Kansas bill in question would codify the federal government’s new minimum tobacco-buying age of 21 in Kansas. People caught smoking or vaping underage wouldn’t face criminal prosecution anymore, though sellers would still face penalties for breaking the law.
The proposal would also get rid of cigarette vending machines and hike the fee that tobacco sellers pay every two years to the state. That fee hasn’t gone up since 1972 and would increase from $25 to $100.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health and education for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @Celia_LJ. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.
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