Utah Is Eyeing An E-Cigarette Tax, But Its Reasoning Is Faulty
February 23, 2015
This post originally appeared as an op-ed on Forbes.com here.
Governor Gary Herbert of Utah’s website recently featured a blog post called “8 facts about e-cigarettes and their effect on public health,” which purports to explain why the governor has included new taxes on these products in his most recent budget proposal.
But the explanation falls short. Aside from the problem that the blog post doesn’t actually list eight “facts” (it lists eight questions), the representation of health literature around vapor products is not honest.
For example, on the question, “are e-cigs worse or better than regular cigarettes?” the post doesn’t even answer its own question as posited, it just says that there are risks of using vapor products, but does not provide comparison of their risk profile to traditional cigarettes.
There is no mention of this study in the Journal of Health Policy which contrasts the 5,300 identifiable chemicals in a traditional cigarette with the primarily three ingredients in vapor (nicotine, propylene glycol, and glycerin). According to that report, “other than TSNAs and DEG, few, if any, chemicals at levels detected in electronic cigarettes raise serious health concerns.”
On another question about whether vapor products help people quit traditional cigarettes, the post argues that “several population-level longitudinal studies” suggest that vapor users are “not more likely” to quit smoking traditional cigarettes than those that try to quit without. It does not mention this study or this study in Tobacco Control which found that electronic cigarettes reduce nicotine cravings.
I take particular affront on this question because my brother used electronic cigarettes as a cessation method, and I know many others that have made the switch and are proud of it. These are just anecdotes, yes, but in my brother’s case, he doesn’t smoke vapor or traditional cigarettes anymore, and I’m glad this option was available to him.
Question number five in the blog post is “what about e-cigs and kids?” The post makes the claim that teens are in danger of trying e-cigarettes, but then the post quickly reveals that Utah has already banned the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. What will tax policy do that outlawing use won’t?
Finally, the very first question in the post that they anticipate that their readers will want to know is “what is an e-cigarette?” This is illustrative of the biggest problem with the push to tax electronic cigarettes on some states: these products are new and innovative and legislators don’t even understand the market for them. To me, that means that it would be highly premature to construct policies that would take a less risky cigarette substitute and try to tax it out of existence.
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