These days, it seems like every lawmaker, on both national and local levels, is pushing to have electronic cigarettes taxed the same way as tobacco cigarettes. This would all be fine and dandy if they actually had legitimate reasons for a higher tax, but their arguments range from preposterous to downright silly.
Let’s begin with the rationale for tobacco taxes. It’s pretty simple – you smoke, you get sick, or worse still, make other people sick, and society has to pay for medical assistance. Higher prices also have a way of discouraging some smokers from continuing with their proven unhealthy lifestyle. As Forbes contributor David Brunori notes, they are both pretty legitimate reasons for a higher tax, or at least they would be if the extra income collected would actually go to funding healthcare and smoking cessation programs. But they don’t, actually. Dozens of state use a considerable part of collected cigarette taxes to fund education or other sectors that have little or nothing to do with smoking.
No one is ever going to admit to this on record, but steep tobacco taxes are nothing but a money grabbing scheme, one that is very hard to contest. The truth is smoking is dangerous to your health, and government officials can always rely on the argument that there are smoking-related externalities to be addressed. After lying to people for decades, tobacco companies actually seem more than willing to pay a few extra cents on a pack if it means they can keep selling their poisons to millions of hooked users, so everybody’s happy. Well, except smokers, but they’re frowned-upon as it is, so what are they going to do?
But now they’re coming after electronic cigarettes, asking for a tax increase of up to 75%. Only the arguments used in the case of tobacco products don’t really apply here. At the moment, there is no scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are harmful to people’s health. On the contrary, there are several studies, surveys and expert-backed analysis, not to mention abundant anecdotal evidence, that they are actually safer than tobacco cigarettes. If that’s true, shouldn’t we be subsidizing these devices, and encouraging smokers to switch, instead of burying them in tax?
But you see, if smokers were to give up tobacco cigarettes to use un-taxed electronic cigarettes, the state would lose money. And they can’t have that. They’re going to get theirs, even if they have to push people back to smoking by raising taxes on a less-dangerous alternative. To hell with harm reduction, pay up!
Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex) is currently sponsoring a bill that would tax electronic cigarettes the same as analogs and other tobacco products. Want to know how he justifies his support? Read on, but prepare to have your mind blown. “While the science may be out on this, definitely we know that there is harm,” Vitale said, adding that “we have an industry that’s trying to fool us once again.” So there’s no real scientific proof, but they know it’s bad and they’re going to tax it to protect the people…
“Hopefully, by increasing the tax on these items we can curb the usage of electronic cigarettes and keep young people from starting an unhealthy and often deadly habit,” Vitale concluded.
Lawmakers across the United States and beyond are now eyeing the electronic cigarette market as a new revenue source, despite a severe lack of logical arguments for an extra tax. This being the case, can you really blame people for doubting that their leaders have their best interests in mind? Like Sheila Baughman, who smoked for 45 years, before switching to electronic cigarettes. “Everybody in the government wants us to quit smoking and the insurance companies want us to quit smoking. And, when we do, they try to come around behind us and say, ‘Oh, now you’re doing this, we need to tax that, we need the money off of that,” she told WSOCTV reporters. You have to admit, she makes a good point.
Unfortunately, the truth is the state is trying to impose a special danger tax on a product, without bothering to first prove it’s actually dangerous.