With a glut of statewide initiatives headed to the ballot in November, it is vital that the public have a clear explanation of the California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016, a ballot measure that seeks to increase the cigarette tax by $2 per pack and put an equivalent increase on vapor products.
While the cigarette tax may be clear, its extension to electronic cigarettes and the ramifications for public health are not.
The initiative, which is the subject of a joint hearing Tuesday by the Assembly health and tax committees, fails to mention that the wholesale tax on vapor products would more than triple. A 30-milliliter bottle of e-cig liquid wholesales for $10. Under the current rate, the tax would be $2.70; under the measure, it would increase to $8.30.
The measure also misleads voters by falsely implying that the harmful health effects of tobacco are similar to those of vapor products. Scientific studies have shown that vapor products are considered a minimum of 95 percent less harmful than tobacco.
For me, it’s not just about the thousands of small businesses in California that will be hurt by the initiative; it’s personal. I smoked two packs a day, and tried nicotine gum, patches and other methods to quit before I found vapor products.
Our opponents claim they want to protect minors as their rationale for a punitive sin tax. Let’s be clear: Vapor products are only intended for adults, and the average age of a user is 39.
A regressive tax is not the answer. Consider that the number of cigarette smokers has hit historic lows, likely a result of people switching to vaping. Furthermore, teen use of e-cigs is actually declining and of those teens who do experiment with e-cigs, federal data show that 80 percent are using zero-nicotine products.
As the debate moves forward, let’s not lose sight of the fact that vapor products present a transformative opportunity to reduce harm caused by smoking. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged that vapor products may be a viable option to help smokers who are otherwise unable or unwilling to quit.
Every user of vapor products who has successfully quit smoking experiences the positive impact that these products have had on their lives. Now we need our elected officials to see it as well.
Taxing these products would erode all of the progress we have made and impede progress going forward. Our focus should be on how we can positively impact the lives of California’s nearly 4 million smokers, including those who made the switch, like myself, rather than adopting a sin tax and abstinence-only position that moves California backward that will only lead to more smoking.
Joshua Krane is president of the California chapters of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association and COO of Craft Vapery Inc. in Los Angeles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.