By GILLIAN FLACCUS Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said Wednesday he will introduce legislation next week that would tax e-cigarettes in the same way that traditional cigarettes are taxed to reduce their appeal to teenagers who are increasingly taking up the popular smoking alternative.
Combating vaping’s dangers requires the full attention of @SenateFinance to consider taxing e-cigs like cigarettes. With great local allies today in Portland like @dkafoury, @SMeieran & @MultCoHealth to share ideas about fighting this health hazard at every level. pic.twitter.com/hGArldJdM4— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) September 4, 2019
Wyden's announcement came the day after Oregon public health officials said they are investigating the death of a middle-aged person who contracted a severe respiratory illness after using a vaping device that contained cannabis that was purchased at a marijuana dispensary.
The death is the second one linked to vaping nationwide and the first linked by health officials to a product purchased at a dispensary. Illinois health officials last month said a patient who contracted a serious lung disease after vaping died. That death was considered the first in the United States linked to vaping.
As of last week, 215 possible cases of severe pulmonary disease associated with the use of e-cigarettes had been reported by 25 states, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The products are highly addictive. They're subject to minimal safety standards and oversights, exposing users to dangerous chemicals ... and they are getting into the hands of more and more young people," Wyden said.
The American Vaping Association said in a statement Wednesday that vaping products are "far less harmful than smoking" and have helped those addicted to traditional cigarettes break that habit.
"Making vaping products more expensive has not been shown to reduce experimentation by youth and will only lead to more adults continuing to smoke deadly combustible cigarettes," Gregory Conley, the association's president, said in an email.
Conley pointed out the Oregon patient who died had vaped a product containing cannabis — a distinction that's critical, he said. The association has blamed the recent spate of lung illnesses on illegal vape pens that contain THC, the compound that gives marijuana its high.
"Oregon is far from the first state to specifically link recent serious lung illnesses to THC vaping products, but it is the first state to report a death or injury in a patient who purchased his or her products at a dispensary," Conley said.
Public health officials need to quickly release more information about what the person vaped to make clear the distinction between nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and vape pens infused with cannabis, he said.
Wisconsin public health officials said late last month that 89% of the people they interviewed who became sick reported using e-cigarettes or other vaping devices to inhale THC.
Under the law, marijuana dispensaries in Oregon can't sell products that have not been tested by the state for contaminants. Authorities declined to provide more details Wednesday on what the patient vaped, where it was purchased and whether it had been properly inspected, citing the investigation.
Jonathan Modie, the spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority, which oversees Oregon's state-legal cannabis industry, did not return a call or email seeking comment.
Health experts say nicotine is harmful to developing brains. Researchers worry that addicted teens will eventually switch from vaping to smoking.
The rise in teen vaping has been driven mainly by flavored cartridge-based products such as Juul. The rechargeable, odorless device can be used discreetly in bathrooms, hallways and even classrooms.
E-cigarettes, which have been available in the U.S. since about 2007 and have grown into a more than $6 billion-a-year industry, are battery-powered devices that typically heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable aerosol. Juul, which launched in 2015, now controls roughly three-quarters of the U.S. retail market for e-cigarettes.
Most experts agree the aerosol is less harmful than cigarette smoke because it does not contain most of the cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco. But there is virtually no research on the long-term effects of the vaping chemicals, some of which are toxic.