In modern America it has become commonplace for government regulation of an activity to serve as a precursor to taxation. Accordingly reports that Contra Costa county supervisors plan to “ban the use of battery-operated electronic cigarettes everywhere traditional tobacco smoking is already prohibited,” are a sure sign that new taxes are on the way.
To understand politics it’s said you should “follow the money.” Nanny-state bureaucrats always keep the bottom line in mind, growing their prerogative to control how citizens live. State and federal regulators n recent years have sought ways to regulate the growing e-cig industry. The current push to regulate (and ultimately tax) e-cigs is in direct response to their commercial success. Ever the vanguard of political correctness, Contra Costa County Supervisors are going with the flow – all in the name of “saving the children” — with hopes that e-cigs someday will provide a source of new tax revenue.
Tobacco-free electronic cigarettes – or “e-cigs” — have become increasingly popular for smokers trying to quit and those trying to escape public-use tobacco laws. E-cigs are about one-third cheaper and far healthier than tobacco cigarettes. User testimonials suggest that e-cigs succeed in helping smokers quit when other cessation methods fail (to the chagrin of pharmaceutical companies that seek to maintain the industry’s monopoly on the smoking cessation drug business).
E-cigs work by turning nicotine — a legal drug — and harmless chemicals (propylene glycol, glycerol, water and flavoring) into water vapor that is inhaled by the user. The user benefits by using a tobacco-free nicotine delivery system with few health risks. And because the device produces harmless water vapor rather than secondhand smoke, it is better for everyone. There is no evidence that “second-hand” e-cig water vapor is harmful — after all, it’s just steam.
Because the FDA has not approved e-cigs as a smoking reduction or cessation device, e-cig companies market their products as “alternatives” to cigarettes. Ironically, this broad marketing approach appeals to non-smokers – including youth – the very groups federal regulators supposedly work most diligently to protect.
During the past five years, e-cig use – known as “vaping” – has grown in popularity. The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association estimates current U.S. users (aka “vapers”) at 3.5 million, up from 50,000 in 2008. Rising cigarette prices – driven by endlessly increasing tobacco taxes – may be helping to fuel e-cig popularity.
So it naturally follows that government must find a way to regulate and tax the successful e-cig industry. Consider:
- Unlike cigarettes, currently e-cigs are not federally-taxed, although some states are moving to impose their own taxes.
- California State Senate Bill 648, currently pending before the Senate Judiciary and Health Committees, would ban the use of vapor products wherever smoking is banned, permit landlords to ban e-cigarette use in private homes and declares use of electronic cigarettes “a hazard to the health of the general public.” The Senate Committee on Health has scheduled a hearing on this bill for April 17. Passage of SB 648 or similar e-cig legislation would surely result in extension of state tobacco taxes on e-cigs.
- The State of Utah estimates it would reap an additional $1.6 million a year if its proposed e-cigarette tax becomes law.
- In 2010 the Federal Drug Administration failed in its attempt to regulate e-cigs as drug-delivery devices, but is now moving to regulate these tobacco-free devices as tobacco products.
- Should the FDA’s efforts to regulate e-cigs as tobacco products succeed, extension of federal tobacco taxes to e-cigs would certainly follow.
- In the 2010 FDA case, the court addressed the “second-hand harm” of e-cigs, as follows: “Regarding harm to third parties and to the public interest, the district court observed that the FDA had cited no evidence to show that electronic cigarettes harmed anyone.”
- Contra Costa County is not alone in seeking to ban public use of e-cigs. The City of Concord has adopted a similar ban, as has Amtrak. Last fall the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a ban aboard airplanes because of “concerns” about health risks from the vapors.
- E-cig industry representatives say pharmaceutical companies will lose millions if e-cigs gain popularity as a smoking cessation device, as evidenced by some pharmaceutical companies’ financial and political support of e-cig opponents.
- Nicotine dependency has a genetic basis. This finding has been the subject of much research into personalized smoking cessation therapies that continue long-term, to avoid relapse, and adjust medication dosage to individual patient metabolism. E-cigs appear to economically meet needs unmet by conventional low-dose nicotine gum and patch therapies.
- Long-term nicotine drug use poses far fewer health risks than long-term tobacco use.
County residents can rest easy knowing they’re safe from the ravages of “killer” water vapor (cue creepy sound track), all thanks to our heroic county sups. Yippy skippy.
But you can’t help but wonder: Seriously, don’t county supervisors have anything better to do?