Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood speaks during the Neshoba County Fair Wednesday, August 1, 2018.

Attorney General Jim Hood will propose during the 2019 legislative session that a use tax be placed on e-cigarettes or vaping devices similar to what is levied on cigarettes.

The proposed tax will be part of a package of legislation designed to strengthen state regulations on the growing vape industry.

Hood is part of a coalition, including the state Health Department, the non-profit Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, the state Youth Court judges and others, working to warn people (particularly parents) of the dangers of e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are electronic or battery-powered devices that can be an alternative to cigarettes. Various types of juices, often fruity flavored and containing nicotine, can be smoked or vaped in the e-cigarettes. Some believe for adults e-cigarettes can be used to try to reduce or stop smoking cigarettes – although that remains unproven. But for teenagers, e-cigarettes, with the addictive nicotine, can result in a dangerous habit, Hood and others contend

“These products are just ways to deliver nicotine – a highly addictive substance, as anyone who has tried to quit smoking cigarettes knows,” said state Health Officer Mary Currier. “Electronic nicotine delivery systems are not included in Mississippi’s tobacco laws, but addict our children and attract them with fruit and other kid friendly flavors. These devices are actually hidden in plain sight, and parents and teachers need to be especially vigilant.”

Hood said that the only current regulation on e-cigarettes is that they are not supposed to be sold to anyone under the age of 18. He would like to see the legal age raised to 21 by the Legislature. He also said he would like to require the products used in the e-cigarettes be pre-packaged or at least have restrictions on the amount of nicotine placed in the product. In some instances, he said, vaping shops are mixing their own concoctions.

Hood contends  the tax imposed on e-cigarettes should be equivalent to the 68 cents per pack on regular cigarettes. The only current tax on e-cigarettes is the 7 percent sales tax.

More teenagers are now vaping than smoking conventional cigarettes, according to Mississippi Tobacco Data, a division of the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. Cigarette smoking among teenagers is at an all-time low of 7.2 percent while 11.5 percent vape or use e-cigarettes, according to information compiled by Mississippi State.

Hood credited the efforts of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi for the reduction in teen smoking. His office is working with the Partnership on brochures, videos and other efforts to warn of the dangers of vaping.

“I want parents to know what their kids are doing, because it’s incredibly easy to hide these devices, and many teenagers don’t even know how dangerous it is to their health,” Hood said.

John Dowdy, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, said the e-cigarettes are being altered to allow the use of illegal drugs through the products.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled teen use of e-cigarettes an epidemic.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.