E-cig tax sparks fierce pub­lic health de­bate

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Wat­son

A grow­ing num­ber of states are tax­ing elec­tronic cig­a­rettes, is spark­ing a fierce pub­lic health de­bate.

Smok­ing has dropped to his­toric lows na­tion­wide, dra­mat­i­cally de­creas­ing rev­enue from tobacco taxes. In search of funds, a grow­ing num­ber of states are tax­ing elec­tronic cig­a­rettes — a trend that is spark­ing a fierce pub­lic health de­bate over whether it will de­ter smok­ers from switch­ing to a safer al­ter­na­tive.

Cal­i­for­nia be­came the sev­enth state to tax e-cig­a­rettes with the over­whelm­ing ap­proval of a Nov. 8 bal­lot mea­sure. Propo­si­tion 56 also will add a $2 per pack state tax to cig­a­rettes onto the al­ready ex­ist­ing 87 cents per pack tax.

State of­fi­cials are still cal­cu­lat­ing the new tax struc­ture. The vaping in­dus­try es­ti­mates the tax could hike up the price of the bat­tery­op­er­ated de­vices and liq­uids by more than 60 per­cent, mak­ing it more ex­pen­sive to vape than smoke, even with the ad­di­tional per-pack tobacco tax.

“Cal­i­for­nia just made the most at­trac­tive op­tion unattrac­tive for many smok­ers, and un­af­ford­able,” said Gre­gory Con­ley of the Amer­i­can Vaping As­so­ci­a­tion, which ad­vo­cates for elec­tronic cig­a­rettes as an al­ter­na­tive to tobacco. “Some may never make an at­tempt to quit.”

The tax­a­tion of e-cig­a­rettes has split the pub­lic health com­mu­nity be­tween those who sup­port eci­garettes be­ing treated the same as tobacco and those who see them as an im­por­tant tool in the fight against smok­ing, the lead­ing cause of pre­ventable deaths in the United States.

There’s no sci­en­tific con­sen­sus on the risks or ad­van­tages of “vaping.”

“It’s one of the nas­ti­est de­bates I’ve ever seen in the pub­lic health com­mu­nity, and I’ve been re­search­ing tobacco con­trol poli­cies for 40 years,” Univer­sity of Michi­gan pub­lic health pro­fes­sor Ken­neth Warner said. “The mo­men­tum, if you will, is in the di­rec­tion against e-cig­a­rettes, for sure, and it is un­for­tu­nate in a big way, be­cause we may be miss­ing out on a po­ten­tial in­ter­ven­tion that could re­duce the toll of smok­ing by a lot.”

E-cig­a­rettes heat a nico­tine liq­uid into a va­por, de­liv­er­ing the chem­i­cal that smok­ers crave with­out the harm­ful tar gen­er­ated from burn­ing tobacco.

Bri­tain pro­motes the de­vices for smok­ers. Its lead­ing physi­cians’ or­ga­ni­za­tion said it found the de­vices were 95 per­cent safer than cig­a­rettes, but some U.S. re­searchers dis­pute that.

E-cig­a­rettes emit chem­i­cals known to cause can­cer, birth de­fects or other harm, and there is con­cern over the long-term im­pact that nico­tine has on ado­les­cent brain de­vel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to Cal­i­for­nia’s Pub­lic Health De­part­ment. Use among young adults ages 18 to 29 has tripled in the state.

“The ev­i­dence is pil­ing up very fast that e-cig­a­rettes are more dan­ger­ous than peo­ple thought,” said Stan­ton A. Glantz, a pro­fes­sor of medicine and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Tobacco Con­trol Re­search and Ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Fran­cisco.

Stan­ton said the univer­sity’s anal­y­sis of more than three dozen stud­ies also found only a frac­tion of smok­ers quit af­ter switch­ing to e-cig­a­rettes and that many end up smok­ing and vaping, which could be worse.

Con­cern over the jump in youth users was a driv­ing force be­hind tax­ing e-cig­a­rettes, Stan­ton said.

“If we could snap our fingers and have all smok­ers be­come e-cig­a­rette users — and not change any­thing else — that would be bet­ter,” he said. “The prob­lem is all the other com­pli­cated things go­ing on.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from around 180 coun­tries par­tic­i­pat­ing in the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s global tobacco con­trol treaty ne­go­ti­a­tions, in­clud­ing the United States, adopted a dec­la­ra­tion ear­lier this month in which they vowed to pro­hibit or reg­u­late the sale of e-cig­a­rettes. The dec­la­ra­tion comes months af­ter the U.S. an­nounced its first fed­eral reg­u­la­tions of e-cig­a­rettes.

The $3 bil­lion vaping in­dus­try fears taxes cou­pled with reg­u­la­tions will shut down many small shops.

Scott Drenkard of the non­par­ti­san Tax Foun­da­tion said the prod­uct’s po­ten­tial to help smok­ers is los­ing out to the rush to re­cover erod­ing tobacco tax rev­enues, which make up as much as 2 per­cent of state bud­gets. More than two dozen states have con­sid­ered tax­ing e-cig­a­rettes since 2015.

In Cal­i­for­nia, tobacco tax rev­enue dropped by 44 per­cent be­tween 1989 and last year, from $1.6 bil­lion to roughly $830 mil­lion. The state has the na­tion’s se­cond-low­est smok­ing rate, be­hind Utah.

State of­fi­cials es­ti­mate Propo­si­tion 56 will raise more than $1 bil­lion in the first year for Cal­i­for­nia, with much of the money ear­marked for health care for the poor.

Pub­lic health ex­perts, like Warner, fa­vor a stag­gered sys­tem that ap­plies a heavy tax on tobacco cig­a­rettes, a lighter tax on e-cig­a­rettes and keep­ing no tax on nico­tine re­place­ment ther­a­pies that have been de­ter­mined to be rel­a­tively risk-free. That would de­ter young peo­ple from vaping the liq­uids that come in candy fla­vors and pro­vide a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive for smok­ers to switch, they say.

North Carolina adds a tax of 5 cents to each mil­li­liter of nico­tine liq­uid com­pared with 45 cents per pack for tra­di­tional cig­a­rettes.

With no con­sen­sus on the health im­pact, some say it makes sense for states to fol­low Cal­i­for­nia’s lead and not tax them dif­fer­ently.

REED SAXON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS, FILE

FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2013, file photo, John Har­ti­gan, pro­pri­etor of Vape­ol­ogy LA, a store sell­ing elec­tronic cig­a­rettes and re­lated items, takes a puff of an elec­tronic cig­a­rette at his store in Los An­ge­les. As smok­ing de­clines na­tion­wide, states are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to tax­ing elec­tronic cig­a­rettes, a trend that con­cerns some pub­lic health ex­perts who fear it could de­ter smok­ers from switch­ing to the safer al­ter­na­tive. Cal­i­for­nia be­came the sev­enth state to tax e-cig­a­rettes af­ter vot­ers Nov. 8, 2016, over­whelm­ingly ap­proved a bal­lot mea­sure.

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