- - Monday, November 22, 2021

The latest iteration of the Democrats’ Build Back Better Act has placed electronic cigarettes firmly in its crosshairs. While most lawmakers have focused their attention on provisions such as expanded Medicare coverage, paid family leave, and prescription drug prices, few have paid attention to a proposed federal levy on electronic cigarettes. 

Democrats have proposed a nicotine tax of $50.33 per 1,810 milligrams of nicotine that would see electronic cigarettes taxed at a broadly similar rate to combustible products—the new nicotine tax is estimated to bring in less than $10 billion over the next decade.

The limited tax revenue aside, the new tax on electronic cigarettes would be an unmitigated disaster for Americans’ health. As Dr. Michael Pesko has warned, “increasing e-cigarette taxes to parity with the cigarette tax rate will sizably increase cigarette use across teens, adults, and pregnant women.”

Recognizing Dr. Pesko‘s dire warnings and the limited revenue the new tax will generate, Congress should immediately reconsider these proposals.
Electronic cigarettes have been the single greatest advancement in tobacco harm reduction since scientists proved a link between smoking and cancer in the 1960s. While the use of electronic cigarettes is not without risk, studies have shown that they are far healthier than combustible products. Georgetown University Medical Center recently estimated that replacing combustible cigarettes with e-cigarettes over 10 years would result in 6.6 million fewer premature deaths in the United States. One reason for this is because electronic cigarettes, unlike combustible products, “do not contain cancer-causing tar because they don’t burn tobacco.”
Yet, by taxing electronic cigarettes at the same level as combustible products, Congress risks pushing more and more Americans back to the pack by making it more expensive to use a safer product that can save lives.
Over the past few years, municipal, state, and federal authorities have sought to craft an increasingly hostile regulatory environment for electronic cigarettes, usually based on the misguided belief that youths are using them and turning to harmful combustible products.

Despite recent studies showing the number of youth vapers declining, the Food and Drug Administration claimed, “the United States has never seen an epidemic of substance use arise as quickly as our current epidemic of youth use of e-cigarettes.”

In Montgomery County, Maryland, stores cannot sell electronic cigarettes “within half a mile of public and private middle and high schools.” Massachusetts recently enacted H.B. 4196 that imposed a 75% excise tax on electronic cigarettes. At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration banned “certain unauthorized flavored e-cigarette products that appeal to kids, including fruit and mint flavors.”

Academic studies have suggested that the tax would fail to significantly reduce the number of teen vapers and turn hundreds of thousands to harmful combustible products. In his letter to Congress, Dr. Pesko warned the nicotine tax would only reduce “teen e-cigarette use by 2.7 percentage points” but “2 in 3 teens who do not use e-cigarettes due to the tax would smoke cigarettes instead.” In total, Dr. Pesko estimated that the nicotine tax would result “in approximately a half-million extra teenage smokers overall.”

His study revealed that increasing taxes on electronic cigarettes would do little to cut teen usage and instead create more demand for traditional combustible cigarettes among younger Americans. These findings should be particularly concerning for critics of electronic cigarettes as their policy suggestions are often predicated on cutting youth demand for dangerous products.

A similar effect would also be seen in adult vapers. Dr. Pesko estimates that the tax on electronic cigarettes would “raise the number of daily adult cigarette smokers by 2.5 million nationally and reduce adult e-cigarette users by a similar number.” An increase of 2.5 million smokers means more and more Americans would be at risk of developing long-term health problems such as lung cancer, COPD, heart disease, and strokes.

Just as thousands of Americans have ditched combustible tobacco products for electronic cigarettes, Congress should ditch any proposal that puts electronic cigarettes out of the reach of consumers.

• Edward Longe is a Policy Manager at the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal

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