A slight wording change on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s tobacco tax ordinance would remove some vaping devices from the list of taxable items.
Ketchikan’s borough assembly voted unanimously on Monday to introduce that ordinance change. It will come back for a public hearing and second vote.
Two business owners spoke during public comment Monday in favor of the wording change. Jason Pfeifer told the assembly that he is setting up a business to manufacture cannabis vape cartridges. He said the cartridges are single-use products that cannot be re-used for nicotine or tobacco.
Pfeifer described how they work. He says vaping cartridges have batteries that power an atomizer inside.
“What an atomizer is, is a heating element. That’s intended to vaporize whatever oil is in there,” he said. “It works like an oil lamp, essentially. There’s a wick inside. The heating element heats up and vaporizes what’s drawn in through that wick.”
Ayme Zantua, co-owner of the Cannabis Corner retail store, also spoke in favor of the wording change. She said they had to stop offering vape pens for sale after the tobacco tax went into effect last year.
“We do not endorse tobacco products. We only sell marijuana-related products to use with these vape pens,” she said. “It is currently hindering our business. It’s hindering sales of our marijuana products.”
The tobacco tax ordinance currently includes e-cigarettes and other devices that also can be used for cannabis consumption. The tax on those items is 50 percent of the wholesale price.
Assembly Member Rodney Dial added that if a business sells these devices now, even without any nicotine product, borough code requires the business to have a tobacco-selling license.
“It seems like a pretty good compromise,” he said of the wording change. “Things that are linked with tobacco will be taxed, things that aren’t will be taxed in a different way.”
The change, if approved in second reading, would apply the borough’s tobacco tax to e-cigarettes and other smoking devices only if they are packaged with a nicotine product.
Also on Monday, the assembly voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the state Division of Forestry to establish a log transfer facility on Gravina Island.
The proposed site is on the north end of the airport reserve property, within the Gravina Island Industrial Complex.
The next regular Ketchikan borough assembly meeting is Aug. 6.