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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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.”
Teams of representatives from large, multinational
tobacco and ENDS companies
testified along with owners of small vaping
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
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.