March 16, 2020
Last week, the Idaho House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that places new restrictions on retailers of vapor products statewide. HP 535, sponsored by Rep. Fred Wood (R-District 27), sought to require vape shops to be legally permitted through the state and inspected by the Department of Health and Welfare.
The bill is apparently designed to ensure that e-cigs and vapor products cannot be sold to minors. Vaping advocates and vape shop owner opposed the bill because state and federal law already prohibits underage sales. Those in support won with a slim margin of 38-32. 56 out of 70 seats of the Idaho House of Representatives are held by republicans.
One of the most vocal critics of the legislation was Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-District 2) who argued that vaping products are a healthier alternative to smoking. He also stated that the harm from nicotine comes from the burning of tobacco leaves and e-liquids used in vaping are 100 percent tobacco-free. It is through this burning process that the creation of tar-filled smoke wreaks havoc on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
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Barbieri – who is also a vape shop owner – declared a conflict of interest and did not vote on the proposal. However, he argued strenuously against HR 535 on the house floor. According to the Idaho Press, Barbieri make the following arguments.
“I get a little emotional here, because it’s difficult to feign this passion when one’s own ox is being prepared for goring…. With respect to parity with cigarettes: Why? … Vaping is an excellent tobacco reduction device. Vaping is hands-down the best alternative to smoking and has been proven extremely effective as a tobacco harm reduction tool.”
Rep. Barbieri also reminded his fellow lawmakers that teen smoking rates are at all-time lows, both nationally and statewide. And while many teens are indeed vaping, the alternative – combustible tobacco products – is proven to be deadly.
At least 50 percent of smokers die from smoking-related illnesses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Barbieri also said that the nicotine solutions used in most vapor products actually comes from the tomato rather than the tobacco plant.
“I have a vape store. From the very beginning, I have had adults coming into the store saying I want to quit, explain this to me, show me how this works. They come back and say things like, ‘Now at work the people I used to smoke with stink, their clothes and everything. … I come home and my wife is cooking in the kitchen and for the first time I’m able to smell what she’s cooking.’ The benefits are obvious to those who have quit smoking. They’re not going back.”
At one point, Barbieri seemed particularly fired up, appearing to lambast the mainstream media for its “the deliberate confusion about this smoking device.” He said that while vaping looks a lot like smoking, it’s relatively harmless in comparison. To be clear, UK Royal College of Physicians said back in 2016 that vaping is 95 percent less harmful than smoking.
Unfortunately, Barbieri’s arguments ultimately fell on more than a few deaf ears. Another Republican congressperson, Rep. Laurie Lickley of Jerome, said that she was forced to “err on the side of our kiddos.” Meanwhile, Rep. Tammy Nichols (R-District 11) sides with Barbieri, claiming that imposing new regulations on the vaping industry would open the door to over-taxation in the future. She also said that similar legislation passed in Minnesota resulted in an increase in teen vaping rather than a decline.