New York is the latest in a growing list of states to add a 20 percent excise tax on vaping products, including e-cigarettes.
The tax, expected to go into effect at the end of the year, was presented under a guise of public health, but it’s hard not to see this simply as a budget gimmick.
In fact, if lawmakers were truly concerned about public health, they would eliminate barriers standing in the way of helping smokers quit.
New York is not alone in taxing e-cigarettes. At the end of 2018, there were 10 states with excise or special taxes on the product.
And many other states are considering the option, including including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
It’s no secret many of these states have serious problems with overspending and are facing worrisome budget shortfalls.
And taxing e-cigarettes to help close this budget gap seems to be rather en vogue these days. But while lawmakers are thinking about raising revenue, they are ignoring a very real public health challenge.
Smoking remains a significant public health concern.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 500,000 Americans die each year from illness attributed to smoking.
And in New York alone, more than 28,000 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses. The cost to society is upwards of $300 billion nationally each year, and over $10 billion in New York, putting tremendous strain on our health care system, economy and our communities.
The nation has spent decades working to stem smoking by imposing higher taxes, eliminating smoking in public places, and generally making it more culturally unacceptable. But vaping, now believed to be at least 95 percent safer than traditional cigarettes, has opened the door to a harm reduction strategy that is already helping people who smoke or people who used to smoke, like me, choose a safer, smoke-free alternative.
E-cigarettes have been found to be a far more effective means of quitting smoking than other nicotine replacement therapies like patches and gum.
According to a randomized controlled trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year, the “1-year abstinence rate was 18.0%” among participants in the e-cigarette treatment group, compared to half that (9.9%) among participants in the other nicotine-replacement group.
And this study reinforces other research, which also found that the increase in e-cigarette use among people who smoke “was associated with a statistically significant increase in the smoking cessation rate.”
While e-cigarettes may not be flawless, they are a far superior product to combustible cigarettes.
They still provide the nicotine, without releasing the toxins that are the source of smoking-related illnesses like lung cancer and heart disease.
Researchers from the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan found that the move from traditional cigarettes to vaping could save nearly “3.3 million life-years” by the year 2070.
And teens are no exception. Far from acting as a “gateway” to smoking, e-cigarettes appear to be a “detour” away from combustible tobacco.
The American Heart Association cautions that an e-cigarette tax that is too high could create a “barrier to switching to e-cigarettes among low-income users of combustible tobacco.”
And an economics professor at Portland State University has presented a scenario in which lawmakers tax conventional cigarettes at a higher rate than e-cigarettes as a means of encouraging a healthier alternative for smokers.
It’s time lawmakers stop trying to cover up their spending problems in the name of protecting our youth.
Increasing taxes on e-cigarettes — and implementing other regulations like flavor-bans — will only make it harder for people who smoke to switch to a less harmful product and more likely that adolescents will turn to combustible cigarettes.
And no amount of new revenue should be worth sacrificing American lives.
— Alex Clark is the CEO of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, a consumer organization.