Local students lead charge against ENDS

Eighth graders from Pinedale Middle School testify about ENDS before the Joint Committee on Revenue on Sept. 18. Pictured, from left, are Dustin Larsen, Anna Lehr, Trista Covill, Reagan Davis and Dodge Normington.

A group of brave local

students stepped forward to testify before

the state Joint Committee on Revenue

about the rising abuse of electronic nicotine

delivery systems (ENDS) in their

schools at a meeting held in Pinedale on

Sept. 18.

In a room packed with state legislators,

local and state officials and corporate lobbyists,

the students from Pinedale Middle

School, Big Piney High School and Kemmerer

High School eloquently spoke about

the daily trail of damage left by ENDS at

their schools.

Following hours of testimony from the

students, local officials, small business

owners and representatives from multi-billion

dollar companies, the committee voted

to sponsor three pieces of legislation aimed

at reducing the use of ENDS among teens.

The draft legislation includes a bill

banning the sale of nicotine products

to anyone under the age of 21 and a bill

prohibiting online and mail-order sales

of tobacco products with the exemption

of specialty cigars. The committee also

passed a motion to consider drafting legislation

directed at third-party age verification

of online sales as an alternative to the

above prohibition.

The third bill the committee voted to

sponsor imposes a tax on ENDS products.

Big Piney High School senior Kaitlyn

Haddock shares her personal experience

with ENDS. Also pictured are

Principal Jeff Makelky and senior

Joe Hajba.

Robert Galbreath photos

Eighth graders from Pinedale Middle School testify about ENDS before the

Joint Committee on Revenue on Sept. 18. Pictured, from left, are Dustin

Larsen, Anna Lehr, Trista Covill, Reagan Davis and Dodge Normington.

This includes a 15-percent wholesale tax and

7.5-percent retail tax. Rep. Albert Sommers

explained that the difference in tax rates is

meant to equalize taxes at the retail level,

where products are sold at higher rates than

at wholesale prices.

Sommers told the Roundup that all three

committee-sponsored bills will still have to

go through the legislative process. He added

that bills sponsored by a committee have a

“much higher potential of success” with a

70-percent passage rate.

“Committee sponsored legislation involves

so many members of the House and

the Senate and is vetted in public,” he added.

“This type of legislation is respected more by

the (legislative) body.”

Students take a stand

Wyoming Deptartment of Health’s Dr.

Alexia Harrist testified about the recent outbreak

of “severe pulmonary disease” linked

to vaping that was first reported in Wisconsin

this summer. The Centers for Disease Control

reported 380 cases of the respiratory disease,

including one case in Wyoming and seven

deaths nationwide, Harrist said. She added

that all the patients reported that they used

vaping devices. Federal agencies are still investigating

what product or chemical was the

causal link.

Harrist emphasized that the use of ENDS

is “not safe” for youth, pregnant women and

non-smokers and that ENDS were “not a

proven cessation tool.”

Harrist concluded that all three draft bills

contained “evidence-based strategies” that

can prevent young people from using ENDS.

Rep. Bo Biteman of Sheridan County said

that while the seven deaths from the severe

respiratory illness were “tragic,” he raised

concern over using words like “epidemic” and

“crisis” to describe the use of ENDS.

There are 480,000 deaths a year related

to using regular cigarettes and other tobacco

products, but “no one is freaking out about

that,” he said.

“Why pass laws and use terms like ‘crisis’

and ‘epidemic’?” he added.

Eric Makelky, principal at PMS, responded

to Biteman that the use of ENDS products in

schools was an epidemic from his standpoint.

“If you hang out in the bathrooms at any

school, you’ll see it’s an epidemic,” he said.

Makelky’s students testified next.

Anna Lehr and Trista Covill addressed the

adverse health effects caused by ENDS. Lehr

said vaping can lead hurt the lungs and lead

to popcorn lung, a respiratory illness caused

by diacetyl, a chemical found in many ENDS

products. Covill added that ENDS products

also affect the heart, and can lead to an increased

chance of a heart attack.

Legislators asked the students where kids

were getting ENDS products and how they

were paying for them.

Lehr answered that students can get ENDS

online. Many websites only require a potential

buyer to type in their age, she and her fellow

students learned as they searched the web as

part of an assignment.

Dustin Larsen said that ENDS products

also come from older students.

“The older kids are vaping, and this is a

bad influence,” he said. “The younger kids

look up to them.”

Younger students frequently get ENDS

from high school students who are over 18, or

from youth who “have a connection to older

college kids,” said Reagan Davis.

Dodge Normington explained that peer

pressure had a lot to do with kids using ENDS.

“In the locker room, you can get vapes

from other kids and just pass them around,”

he said. Once one kid starts using ENDS, it

“can spread really fast” among friends, he

added.

Rep. Cale Case of Fremont County and the

co-chair of the committee asked the young

people how many had access to their own

debit cards. At least half of the students raised

their hands.

Big Piney High School seniors Joe Hajba

and Kaitlyn Haddock also testified.

“(The use of ENDS) affects sports teams,”

Hajba said. “They come from older kids

and are passed down to younger kids. The

younger kids get addicted and carry (the addiction)

with them through their life.”

Haddock courageously shared her own

personal story of battling addiction to cigarettes

and ENDS.

“Smoking and vaping changed my life and

mindset,” she said. “You don’t even know

what you’re putting into your lungs. I chose

(ENDS and cigarettes) as a coping mechanism

to help with stress. When I was off nicotine,

I would lash out at people. While I was

smoking and vaping, I’d get sick easily.”

Big business

Teams of representatives from large, multinational

tobacco and ENDS companies

testified along with owners of small vaping

businesses.

Dave Picard of Altria, a parent company

of brand names like Phillip Morris and U.S.

Smokeless Tobacco, said his company was

committed to preventing youth access to

ENDS products. Genevieve Plumadore of

JUUL Labs said their company also worked

to ensure that “no young person ever tries a

JUUL.”

Plumador explained that JUUL’s website

required buyers to upload government

identification that matches their credit cards.

Plumadore blamed the outbreak of lung disease

related to vaping on “illegal cartridges

and vapes,” and added that their product was

safe and a “viable alternative” for adults looking

to quit smoking “combustible cigarettes.”

Biteman added that JUUL products were

designed to be discreet and look like USB

ports to offer adults a way to quit cigarettes

without the “stigma” attached to smoking.

Picard and Plumadore said they wanted a

tax on their products that was “low and specific.”

Instead of a flat excise tax on all ENDS

products, they proposed a tax based on the

quantity of nicotine in each product.

Sublette County Sheriff K.C. Lehr explained

that a tax based on quantity would be

hard to enforce. He stated that at this time,

the ENDS industry was “not regulated.” The

sheriff’s office frequently tested ENDS products

that contained levels of nicotine that varied

from what was printed on the label.

“We had a flavored vape that was labelled

as nicotine-free tested in the lab and found

that the product had more nicotine than a pack

of cigarettes,” he said.

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