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The Legislature's e-cigarette tax showdown

A new bill in the Legislature wants to tax the mini vaporizers. Opponents say that would punish good behavior.
A woman smokes an e-cigarette.

A woman smokes an e-cigarette. Photo: Michael Dorausch

Are they 'God's work' or just another harmful tobacco product? Either way, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, has introduced a bill this session to tax electronic cigarettes similarly to tobacco cigarettes. Carlyle's bill would install a 95 percent "Other Tobacco Product Tax" on e-cigarette wholesalers and make it illegal for kids 18 and younger to use e-cigarettes.

At the Friday hearing on the bill, the crowd protested the legislation to the House Finance Committee, of which Carlyle is chairman.

An e-cigarette, which looks a little like an actual cigarette, is really just a tube with a heated atomizing device in it. A flavored liquid — either laced with nicotine or nicotine-free — is poured in and the heating atomizer turns the fluid into vapor, which is then inhaled or "vaped".

It's a way of smoking tobacco and other products that's exploded in popularity: Between 2008 and 2012, the number of e-cigarettes sold grew from 50,000 to 5 million, according to USA Today.

Carlyle's tax would raise an estimated $3.44 million in fiscal year 2014-2015, $38.8 million in 2015-2017 and $76 million in 2017-2019. Most of that money would go toward paying for state education improvements required by a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling. Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, has introduced a companion bipartisan bill in the Senate. 

The devices cost anywhere from $35 to $200 and Friday's testimony indicated that 10 milliliters of the vaping liquid cost just $8, but equal the nicotine content of five packs of tobacco cigarettes. A pack of cigarettes on the other hand costs between $7 and $10, of which slightly more than $3 is the state tax on tobacco products.

Medical professionals are still split about the health effects of e-cigarettes. A July 2013 World Health Organization report ruled that available research cannot say how safe e-cigarettes are. Susie Tracy, representing the Washington State Medical Association at Friday's hearing, said that the medical association supports the tax on e-cigarettes. 

Still, a February 2011 article in the Journal of Public Health Policy was cautiously optimistic, saying that e-cigarettes are healthier than tobacco cigarettes.

Carlyle is not convinced. "The medical data is not making the case that it is less deadly," he said Friday.

"It is clear this is a nicotine product infusing nicotine into the bloodstream in a direct way."

During testimony Friday against the bill, opponents contended that supposedly safer e-cigarettes help smokers wean themselves off of tobacco cigarettes and keep kids from graduating to more dangerous tobacco products. A tax, they said, would only send e-cigarette sales to other states. E-cigarette smokers, they argued, rarely move up to tobacco cigarettes.

"It's called a cigarette, but it's not a cigarette at all," said Zack McLain, co-owner of Future Vapors in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. "... It's a healthy alternative to a cigarette. ... If this excessive tax goes down, it'll discourage newbies from coming in and giving it a shot."

"The most egregious part to me: Why take it away from the kids?" said finance committee member Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee. Another committee member Rep J.T.Wilcox, R-Yelm, thought the bill is a blatant tax grab.  

Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom and not on the committee, testified that the military routinely recommends e-cigarettes as alternative to tobacco. "These people are doing God's work," he said. "... Not only should we not tax them. We should tax-exempt them."

"We have 10,000 customers at two stores," said Kim Thompson, owner of  Pierce County's The Vaporium. "That means we've converted 10,000 people from smoking to vaping."

"Overtaxing small business will mean the end of small businesses," he asserted.

Jim Oliver, a co-owner of the Steampunk Vapor Lounge in Tacoma, put it more dramatically. "You're telling smokers to either quit or die."
 

John Stang covers state government for Crosscut. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Sat, Mar 1, 3:43 p.m. Inappropriate

"You're telling smokers to either quit or die."

Sooner is always better when it comes to smokers.

Djinn

Posted Sat, Mar 1, 5:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Article shows that our legislators have no clue on several fronts. 1. 'vaping' is nothing more than a highly addictive drug delivery system. In most cases nicotine which is more addicting then cocaine. 2. Our military is NOT doing God's work Dick Muri, they are doing our COUNTRY'S work. 3. I have been near someone 'vaping', and its gives off chemical fumes in addition to water vapor. I wondered if I was going to have an adverse reaction requiring medical services. 4. So far, all evidence show limited reduction in tobacco use and it has become a new primary method of hooking young people on using nicotine products. My opinion is that we need to tax the bejesus out off them.

nhoteach

Posted Sun, Mar 2, 1:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Before you comment on things you have no knowledge of you should do some research. There are no dangerous chemicals being given off, its food grade glycol (FDA approved) and nicotine. The amount of nicotine given off when exhaled is minimal trace amounts. Certain vegetables have the same trace amounts of nicotine(cauliflower,tomatoes,for two) are they dangerous too? Its uneducated opinions like yours that create even more uneducated opinions. Also, the whole hooking young people is a line of BS. Kids who are inclined to are gonna smoke no matter what product is on the market. I would rather them "vape" and use one of these than "smoke" a real cigarette.They sales are also ristricted to folks 18 or over. The harmful effects from smoking comes from the 1000 or so chemicals and the heated smoke into the lungs, not the nicotine.

waguy

Posted Sun, Mar 2, 8:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Your comment shows you have no clue on any front.
1. Real scientific studies have shown that nicotine by itself is not very addicting at all. The whole "nicotine is more addicting than cocaine or heroin" myth came from some ridiculous studies where the "scientists" simply asked former cocaine and heroin addicts, who were also smokers, which habit was harder to quit. Now think about it, if you were a drug addict that smoked, which would you want to give up the most...a drug habit that can do severe harm to many systems of your body, damage that can be felt in a short amount of time... or a smoking habit that may or may not kill you in 50 years?
2. The "God's work" comment was in reference to people selling electronic cigarettes...unless you think he was planning to tax the military.
3. The "chemical fumes" you noticed was the slight smell of the food flavoring that is used in the liquid. There are 3, sometimes 4, ingredients in the liquid. The main ingredient in most e-liquids is propylene glycol, PG. PG is used in more consumer products and foods than could be listed here and is also a common carrier liquid in many medicines, including asthma inhalers. The next ingredient is vegetable glycerin, VG. VG is also used in numerous consumer products and foods. The other 2 ingredients are nicotine and food flavorings. The nicotine is absorbed by the user and food flavorings...well they are food flavorings.
4. You obviously have no idea what any real evidence shows about these products. Millions of people around the world have completely given up tobacco cigarettes with the use of electronic cigarettes. The ONLY thing that points to youth using ecigs is the CDC study that was released last fall. A study that was widely misinterpreted. One of the main things people leave out when talking about the CDC study is the fact that the overwhelming majority of the kids who responded that they had tried an ecig were already smoking tobacco cigarettes. There is absolutely no way to use the CDC study to claim that ecigs are hooking youth on nicotine...because that question was never asked in it. The usage that supposedly doubled was "ever use" which could be taking a single puff in youthful experimentation. There was not a single question in the whole survey about "continual use" which is the only way to tell if kids are actually using ecigs long term.

Posted Sun, Mar 2, 2:47 p.m. Inappropriate

There are no known carcinogens involved in the use of a PV (personal vaporizer) versus, what?, 4000 in a cigarette? In regards to second hand effects a person sneezing or coughing within 100 yards of you, even if in an enclosed room, is a greater threat to your health than a PV. Having smoked for 40 years and now using a PV exclusively my Doc was ecstatic with the sound of my chest after 6 months. I'm down to 6 mg/ml of nicotine in my juice (the liquid I put in my PV) and consume about 3 ml of juice a day. Since I am an addict I do not use a device that even REMOTELY looks like a cigarette nor tastes like tobacco or a cigarette. Also there are no butts that get thrown on the ground nor the need ashtrays/butt cans. Lastly, no one is going to burn down their apartment building by vapeing in bed.

IF YOU ARE THE ENEMY OF TOBACCO IT BEHOOVES YOU TO STRONGLY ENCOURAGE AND SUPPORT THE USE OF PERSONAL VAPORIZERS AND/OR E-CIGARETTES.

PVs/e-cigarettes will be the product that cuts deeply into the profits of tobacco companies. Just look at how many of the big tobacco companies are producing PV products.

Honario

Posted Sun, Mar 2, 8:16 p.m. Inappropriate

The New York Times "Without also ingesting tar and other cancer-causing substances" describing the benefit of electronic cigarettes. Which is why I'm a strong supporter.

They can also help break people away from regular cigarette smoking. Know anyone?

- Ben
www.kushaccess.com

bertl

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't think we even have to have the conversation about dangers or no dangers, ecigs v. regular cigarettes. This is simply another money grab.

Both ecigs and regular cigarettes are legal products. We have laws in place to protect non-smokers. If people choose to give the state free money by indulging a cigarette habit, then that's their right and we should be thanking them, because otherwise the rest of us would be paying.

Of course that argument could be applied to ecigs, too, but I don't see the harm, quite frankly, and do think they could help at least some people quit and prevent at least some people from starting. Pricing it punitively will not stop people; it hasn't stopped smokers yet, despite decades of increasing taxation at both federal and state level. Our legislators need to be looking at how to manage the money they already get from us, not jumping on a newer product that might actually do some good.

mspat

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