Voters in California made their feelings about smoking clear this past Election Day by passing Prop 56, a new tax on cigarettes, by a huge margin. The state had an 87 cent tax per pack on cigarettes that had not been increased in years, so as an effort to curb smoking, the proposed $2.00 additional tax seemed long overdue to many. The new tax on cigarettes will be comparable to cigarette taxes in some other states. The measure also includes taxes on e-cigarettes and related supplies. It was a ballot measure that covered two separate things, with voters having no choice but to vote for both or none. Did voters really mean to tax e-cigarettes as well as tobacco cigarettes? It’s hard to say, but like it or not, Californians will now be paying more for e-cigarettes, despite there being no evidence that they are harmful and are in all likelihood significantly safer than tobacco.
Here is the problem for states: Smoking rates have declined, largely due to increasing cigarette taxes, which are said to be designed to accomplish this very goal: get people to quit smoking. But when people quit buying cigarettes, tax money decreases. Governments say they care about their citizens’ health and want them to quit smoking, but when cigarette tax money decreases, they need to replace it. Enter e-cigarettes. By pretending that there is no evidence that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking, and by turning a blind eye to the fact that e-cigarettes contain no tobacco whatsoever, governments can say that e-cigarettes are pretty much exactly the same as tobacco cigarettes and tax them accordingly.
Here is the problem for smokers: They want to quit and know that e-cigarettes are safer, because there is evidence, especially if one looks outside of the United States to places like Great Britain, where science has openly declared the safety of e-cigarettes and encouraged their government to recommend them. But now in the U.S., e-cigarettes are being taxed, as well as restricted or in some places outright banned. This means that smokers may wind up with no other alternatives but nicotine gums or patches, which may have failed them before, smoking cessation prescription medications that have dangerous side effects, or if all else fails – going back to smoking.
The new tax in California could actually make it more expensive to use e-cigarettes than to smoke cigarettes. Between this and the continuing fear-mongering by anti-smoking groups about the supposed dangers of e-cigarettes, many smokers may decide that continuing to smoke is the lesser of two evils. Smoking is deadly; we know this. We also know that e-cigarettes have in fact helped countless smokers to quit tobacco. Making it more difficult or more expensive to acquire e-cigarettes hurts smokers by actually encouraging them not to quit.
The issue that comes up repeatedly in the debate about e-cigarettes is children. The anti-e-cigarette argument is that e-cigarettes may appeal to kids, especially if we dare admit that they’re probably safer than smoking. No one in the e-cigarette industry wants to see children or teens take up an e-cigarette habit. Rather than promoting their products to youth as they are often accused of doing, e-cigarette retailers make it very clear that they will not sell their products to anyone under 18 or in some cases, 21. They have done this voluntarily since the early days of e-cigarette sales on the internet, without any laws requiring them to restrict sales to adults. The accusation that e-cigarette sellers and manufacturers are targeting young people is completely unfounded, as are claims of health hazards that no legitimate scientific evidence supports.
The e-cigarette industry favors common sense legislation that would keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of young people, while allowing adults who smoke to decide which products to use to help them quit a deadly habit. Government seems to have a keen interest in limiting smokers’ choices to products that are tied to pharmaceutical companies and the FDA.
When ballot initiatives like California’s Prop 56 piggyback one measure on another, voters are often unclear about what they are voting for. This could become a popular way for governments to tax or even ban e-cigarettes, and then be able to claim that since it was done by vote, the people actually wanted it. If the full truth about e-cigarettes and their safety as compared to smoking was widely known, it’s hard to believe that anyone would want to discourage smokers from switching to e-cigs, especially anyone who is genuinely interested in the people’s good health.