Georgia lawmakers are mulling a proposed excise tax for vaping products in the 2020 legislative session. (Stock photo by Lindsay Fox)

Vaping will be taxed in Georgia under a measure that passed the General Assembly Friday. Lawmakers also raised the state’s minimum age to vape or smoke cigarettes from 18 to 21.

The measure slaps a 7% excise tax on vaping products sold in Georgia like e-cigarettes, vape pens, refillable cartridges and electric hookahs.

Pushed by Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, the vaping tax was added to a separate bill that raises the minimum age to use tobacco and vape products to 21. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga.

The bill passed by a 45-8 vote in the Senate Friday after the state House passed it by a 123-33 vote on Thursday. It now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

Vaping manufacturers and store owners had opposed the excise tax and new licensing rules in Rich’s proposal, arguing higher prices on vaping could drive smokers back to cigarettes after using the tobacco-less products to kick the habit.

Nearly 500,000 people die each year in the U.S. from tobacco-caused diseases, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But supporters of a tax and tighter rules on vaping have stressed the need to protect children from vaping, particularly in light of the risk that kids who get hooked on nicotine could gravitate to cigarettes.

They point to data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration showing nearly 4 million middle and high school students used vaping products in 2018, a large increase from the prior year.

Rallying support for her proposal earlier this week, Rich said the charge on vape sales would help promote safety for kids as more and more youth acquire a taste for vaping in Georgia and the U.S.

“We need to get in front of this and start regulating this industry to protect our youth,” Rich said.

The proposed vaping tax almost died in mid-March when House lawmakers sought to slice the 7% tax in half for so-called “modified-risk” tobacco products like smokeless dip. That special consideration was removed from the vape-tax before it passed.

On the House floor Thursday, Rich said the excise tax should drum up between $11 million and $19 million in new revenues for the state. That would be a boon for Georgia’s coffers at a time when lawmakers are cutting the state budget by more than $2 billion amid the coronavirus pandemic, she said.

But the vape bill did not touch the state’s cigarette tax, which stands at 37 cents per pack. Many lawmakers and budget observers have called for increasing the cigarette tax to boost revenues rather than cut spending for state agencies.

A separate bill has proposed upping the cigarette tax to $1.35 per pack. Backers say that could raise hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The cigarette tax hike has backing from influential Republican lawmakers including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, but has stalled in the legislature.

Mullis, who carried the vape bill in the Senate, insisted Friday the vaping tax would not raise any levies on tobacco products.

“No taxes on tobacco,” he said.