Utah has passed a law making online purchases illegal by residents after July 1. According to Aaron Frazier, executive director of the Utah Smoke-Free Association, the law prohibits citizens of Utah from buying any vaping related products, including e-liquid, from any business except in a face-to-face transaction.
And since Utah has encouraged local zoning laws that make brick-and-mortar businesses nearly impossible to open in many areas, many of Utah’s estimated 35,000 vapers will have no access to lifesaving vape products at all. “We fear that this will drive these non-smokers to return to smoking combustible tobacco and elevating the state’s smoking rates after historic declines thanks in part to vapor products,” Frazier wrote in a post on the UTSFA website.
The law had been promoted as a licensing bill. None of the organizations that reviewed it originally caught the carefully hidden language that will prevent online sales in the state. The UTSFA has been working to change the law for months, but just became aware that it cannot be changed in time to prevent the online vape ban on July 1. Frazier says how the state will enforce the law is unknown.
The law is the work of Utah Rep. Paul Ray, who has fought against the vaping industry with a fanatical, almost religious zeal for years. Utah vapers have fought and beaten his efforts in the state legislature several times, including a bill earlier this year that would have imposed an 86.5 percent tax on vapor products, and two other attempts to tax vapor. Ray has referred to vape businesses as “the scumbag industry.”
Ray consistently misrepresents Utah’s vaping businesses as being affiliated with the tobacco industry. “[Tobacco companies] know that if they can’t addict a new generation to tobacco, they will go out of business in the next 20 years,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune in March. “E-cigarettes are how they are going to addict that next generation.” He brought 300 school children into the capitol for a hearing in an attempt to pull at the heartstrings of legislators during a hearing.
According to Frazier, the online sales prohibition “is due to language that was added into 2015 HB 415 that was not discussed nor debated and was a DELIBERATE bait and switch tactic by Representative Paul Ray. He knew the language was there yet when the bill was presented to the industry…and he chose NOT disclose the true intent. We find this conduct unbecoming of an elected state representative and is the most unethical action in the 6 years of legislative activity to destroy an industry founded to eradicate combustible tobacco.”
The UTSFA believes the law is a direct violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives Congress the sole power to regulate interstate trade. But a federal lawsuit is a very expensive proposition, so that will probably be a last resort after attempting to change the law through legislation. Nevertheless, the association has taken steps to prepare for a fight by joining the Vapor Technology Association (VTA) and retaining Keller and Heckman, the law firm that is also handling the federal lawsuit in Indiana and the Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition suit challenging the FDA’s deeming regulations.
Vapers and vendors can contribute to the UTSFA legal fund. It’s crucially important for Utah vapers — and the family members and friends that benefit from their vaping — to make themselves heard. The state has crafted laws that will prevent smokers from switching to vaping, and ultimately will do nothing but protect cigarette sales. If there are 35,000 vapers in Utah, there should be at least that many letters written to state representatives and senators suggesting they repeal the online ban in the next legislative session.