'We can't do it the way they did it': City Attorney says a vaping tax like Omaha's isn't in the works for Lincoln
After Omaha passed a tax on vaping products earlier this month, many are wondering if Lincoln will do the same.
Lincoln City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick told Channel 8 Eyewitness News there currently is no legal way for that to happen.
"We can't do it the way they did it," Kirkpatrick said.
A recent state law prohibits cities from passing occupation taxes on tobacco products. But that law was passed after Omaha had already passed an occupation tax on tobacco products, which was allowed to stay in effect. It's that exemption that allowed the city to lump in vaping with the tax already in place, Kirkpatrick said.
"When Omaha wanted to tax vaping products they just said, 'Hey, we've got a tax on cigarettes. These (vaping devices) are close, we're going to apply the same occupation tax to vaping products,'" he said. "And they could do that."
But Lincoln can't. And while there may be a technical way to get around the state law, Kirkpatrick says it's not something his office is looking into - and it's not something there's been a demand for at this time.
"We may be able to take a look at it if there was interest in it by our elected officials," he said.
In the meantime, Kirkpatrick says Lincoln's focus is on a proposed ban on vaping in public places. Health officials who introduced the proposal have cited possible health concerns stemming from secondhand vapor.
"We're not telling people they can't vape," Kirkpatrick said. "We're saying there's a health risk, and so if you want to do that you shouldn't be exposing other people involuntarily to that health risk."
Local vape store owners are fighting the proposed ban, saying it's bad for business and would prohibit customers from trying products and even from having store employees help them fix broken devices.
Sarah Linden, who owns Generation V, said the ban not only affects customers and her bottom line, but it even goes so far as to be discriminatory.
"It wouldn't be fair to say you can't vape... but you can go into a cigar bar and smoke cigars which we know smoking causes cancer," Linden said.
Linden also challenged claims about potential harmful side effects from vapor products, saying vaping is "95% healthier than smoking," and that secondhand vapor "doesn't cause any health concerns."