A wording change to the borough’s tobacco tax was approved during Monday’s Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly meeting.
The tobacco tax ordinance originally included all e-cigarettes and other smoking devices. The tax on those items is 50 percent of the wholesale price. The change now applies the borough’s tobacco tax to smoking devices only if they are packaged with a nicotine-containing product.
That change would allow marijuana retail stores to sell vaping devices meant for cannabis consumption.
Terrence Robbins, whose job focuses on reducing substance use, said the tobacco tax is a good way to reduce youth tobacco consumption. He was concerned the wording change would weaken that impact.
“This change would make it so the marijuana shops could sell a cheaper marijuana product, (which) could have an adverse effect and will have an adverse effect in my opinion on youth tobacco use because now that youth e-cigs, or the e-cigs that youth are buying or getting their friends to buy for them, would be a lot cheaper,” he said.
Spencer Strassburg owns the Foxhole in downtown Ketchikan. That store sells marijuana paraphernalia, as well as nicotine products such as vape pens.
Strassburg supports the wording change, but was unhappy the borough has been collecting taxes on items that, he said, should never have been taxed in the first place.
“Did anyone here at the meeting tonight mention giving back any of that money that you collected? Anyone?” he said. “All we talked about was just changing language now, right? I get to go home after two years waiting for you guys to do something and lay my head down and know that I kinda got a problem because I collected it (and) I’ve got no way to giving it back to each and every one of those people.”
The assembly voted unanimously to make the wording change.
Also Monday, the assembly declined to vote on a proposal to spend $20,000 on shelters for smokers at Ketchikan International Airport. Borough staff suggested the shelters because, starting in October, smokers will not be able to smoke under the overhang near the airport’s doorways.
The Legislature adopted a new law prohibiting smoking within 20 feet of an entrance to a public facility, an air-handling system or someone’s place of employment.
Assembly Member Sue Pickrell said she doesn’t want to spend money on a shelter for smokers.
“I don’t want a designated area. I think people can just learn to quit smoking, I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t agree with taxing people, but I also don’t agree with providing them places to go smoke.”
In response to a question, Borough Manager Ruben Duran said smokers would not be able to smoke under the sheltered ferry ramp, either, because that is a public facility.
In other matters, the assembly voted unanimously to approve a resolution designating South Point Higgins Beach as a park. It’s the first step toward making potential improvements at the recreation site, such as parking.
The assembly’s next regular meeting is Aug. 20.