Taxes are essential to the necessities of any nation. We all expect them and all we ask is that they be fair. Fairness, however, is something that Utah lawmakers are abandoning as they conider an 86.5% tax of ecigs. That is not a typo, the proposed tax is 86.5% on electronic cigarettes! Vaping in Utah could soon be heavily taxed as hundreds of thousands of people in Utah still struggle with an addiction to deadly tobacco.
The tax was proposed by Utah State Rep Paul Ray and outlined in bill HB0333. Representative Ray said that electronic cigarettes “are not taxed now because they are relatively new and they have never been put into the tax code, or into any code, as a tobacco product,” said Rep. Ray. “It has nicotine in it, so it is a tobacco product.”
Elected officials seem to always consider electronic cigarettes to be a tobacco product because of the presence of nicotine. Nicotine is found in tobacco, of course, but it is also found in a number of plants including edible vegetables. The tobacco plant is the most well-known source of nicotine but certainly not the only source. Ray’s Bill also refers to nicotine as a “volatile poison” even though many medical professionals have found potential benefits for nicotine. Whether or not nicotine is bad for you is not a black and white issue.
As we all know, several products containing nicotine have been approved by bureaucratic agencies as nicotine replacements. In Ray’s legislation Big Pharma nicotine products are so fortunate to be classified as “therapeutic” and miraculously escape the proposed 86.5% taxation. So while ecig companies and independent vape shop owners get hit hard, the special interests of giant drug companies are totally off the hook. Draw your own conclusions.
If there is a bright side, Ray proposes that the ecig taxes collected be spent on rural health programs. Rep. Ray Ward proposes that the money be spent on medicaid expansion. Unfortunately for some very at-risk people in Utah, namely 200,000 plus smokers, accessing a less harmful alternative may become more daunting and expensive than ever before. While the tax revenue may help some, the immediate health of current smokers may be put at an increased risk.
Vaping In Utah
Vaping in Utah will instantly become much more expensive if HB0333 passes. An 86.5% tax will essentially double the cost of vaping. While using electronic cigarettes will still be less expensive than smoking, the massive cost increase will no doubt be felt by vapers. Many fear that with such a dramatic increase in price, smokers may be discouraged from pursuing a less harmful option and will simply continue smoking tobacco cigarettes.
What will vaping in Utah be like if this massive ecig tax increase passes. One thing that stands out as obvious is the fact that smokers and vapers in Utah living near a border will simply spend money in another state to access vaping products for half the price that they will cost in Utah. How this will impact vape shops and other business owners inside the borders of Utah remains to be seen but it is probably safe to say that there will be a decrease in business and, potentially, jobs.
In order to avoid excessive taxation, history tells us that black markets will probably evolve. Black marketers will be able to drive across the state border, stock up on electronic cigarette products and then sell them back in Utah for prices legitimate business will not be able to match. This will cost Utah jobs and potential revenues.
The best electronic cigarette products and eliquids are sold online. Vaping in Utah will probably turn away from local business as more people will buy strictly online. These are all of the pure business aspects of how this tax proposal will negatively impact the rights of an adult smoker to access a less harmful option. It is the potential health impact where the pain may be felt the most.
Mr. Ray said that he hopes that teens will be discouraged from vaping in Utah because of this massive tax. That would be an excellent outcome but despite the media frenzy, teen vaping is very rare. Finding a teen vaper who was not first a smoker is even more of a rarity. What isn’t rare is the number of people in Utah who die from smoking every year.
Here are some scary facts that Paul Ray would be wise to consider before waging a war on electronic cigarettes.
220,000 Utah adults are addicted to cigarettes
About 1,150 people in Utah die every year from tobacco related causes
There are more than 11,000 children in Utah being exposed to second hand smoke in their homes
Smoking costs Utah $663 million in health costs and lost productivity annually
The medicaid costs in Utah to treat uninsured smokers costs over $100 million a year
This is stat that Ray should be thinking about, 80% of Utah smokers WANT to quit. Only 7% to 8% are able to. Conventional, FDA approved smoking cessation methods are clearly failing the people of Utah. Does it make sense to make a potentially helpful alternative more difficult to get?
The facts listed above are real and affecting the lives of the people of Utah right now. There is nothing theoretical about the harm of tobacco. Clearly the most pressing issue involving smoking in Utah is the tragedy that strikes 4 Utah families every day when they lose a loved one to smoking. People are trying to quit, they want to quit, and they can’t. Vaping in Utah could help. Those people need help, Mr. Ray, help not wild, price doubling taxes.