The Alaska Beacon and Wrangell Sentinel

Alaska posted the nation’s highest rate of increase in electronic cigarette use by young adults from 2016 to 2021, according to a report tracking patterns in all 50 states.

The rate of e-cigarette use by Alaskans in that age group more than tripled, from 4.8% in 2019 — the lowest rate in the nation at the time — to 15.8% in 2021, according to the report.

The sponsor of a bill in the Alaska Legislature to impose a tax on e-cigarettes, vape sticks and other electronic smoking devices has said the tax is intended to deter young people from vaping, same as the state tax on tobacco cigarettes is intended to deter smokers.

The recent report on e-cigarette use was compiled by HealthAdvisor, a company owned by insurance marketer Tranzact. The report uses data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Nationally, e-cigarette use, also known as vaping, has increased dramatically for young adults, according to the report. In 2016, 9.6% of Americans between 18 and 24 years old used e-cigarettes; that jumped to 19.8% in 2021, roughly doubling.

The HealthAdvisor report has findings similar to those in the 2022 Alaska Tobacco Facts update released in December by the Alaska Department of Health. That report, which focused on a younger age group, said that about a quarter of Alaska high school students regularly used e-cigarettes in 2019 and nearly half had tried vaping at least once.

Senate Bill 89 would raise the legal age for purchase of e-cigarette products in Alaska from the current 19 to 21, matching federal law. It also would impose Alaska’s first state tax on e-cigarette and vape products at 25% of the retail price. Although several municipalities around the state impose taxes on e-cigarette products, the state has not changed its tobacco tax since 2006, a time before vaping products became widely used.

The bill is sponsored by Senate President Gary Stevens. It moved from the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee last Friday to the Senate Finance Committee, still facing a lot of steps to win legislative passage before the adjournment deadline of May 17.

Under the legislation, the fine for underage possession of a vape product would be a maximum of $150. The Labor and Commerce Committee added a provision so that a judge could offer a defendant, in lieu of paying a fine, the option of participating in a “tobacco educational program.”

Lawmakers last year passed a similar bill that was also sponsored by Stevens, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed it, citing opposition to the tax provision. 

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.