Vermont legislators are considering a bill that would tax e-cigarette products as though they are tobacco, increasing excise taxes on e-cigarettes and e-cigarette fluid in the state.
House Bill 879, sponsored by state Rep. George Till (D-Jericho), would redefine the state’s tax on cigarettes and “other tobacco products” to include “products sold as a tobacco substitute, … including any liquids, whether nicotine based or not, or delivery devices sold separately for use with a tobacco substitute.”
The House of Representatives approved HB 879 in March. A companion bill is now under consideration in the state’s Senate.
Vermont currently levies a 92 percent excise tax on all tobacco products sold in the state, excluding cigarettes. The state government imposes a $3.08 tax on each pack of cigarettes, increasing the price by about 51 percent.
‘A Really Misguided Effort’
Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University, says e-cigarette taxes impair the public’s health.
“There’s a really misguided effort going on among many state legislatures to try to reduce the consumption of electronic cigarettes and discourage their use, by essentially giving regular, real tobacco cigarettes a competitive advantage in the marketplace by taxing electronic cigarettes and essentially taking away the price advantage those products have,” Siegel said.
‘Negative Public Health Outcome’
Siegel says the proposed tax will discourage Vermont residents using e-cigarettes from continuing to wean themselves off of tobacco.
“I think this legislation, if it’s enacted, is going to cause an increase in smoking and result in killing people,” Siegel said “There’s no question that this is going to have a negative public health outcome.”
Shaking Down Smokers
Robert Rober, president of the Ethan Allen Institute, says the proposed tax hike is a cash grab by lawmakers.
“It’s the result of the state having a structural budget deficit,” Rober said. “It will raise about $500,000, so it’s not huge, but there are legislators who are currently shaking the couch cushions for change, and they’re raising this tax because they can raise this tax.”
State ‘Essentially a Drug Dealer’
Rober says Vermont lawmakers would rather keep residents addicted to tobacco, because lawmakers are addicted to spending.
“There’s no good reason to pass a nearly 100 percent increase,” Rober said. “This is what happens when a state becomes, essentially, a drug dealer. They become more attached to the revenue than to what’s actually good for the health of the people they’re trying to serve.”
Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.
Jidong Huang, et al., “The Impact of Price and Tobacco Control Policies on the Demand for Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems,” Tobacco Control, June 16, 2014: https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/impact-price-and-tobacco-control-policies-demand-electronic-nicotine-delivery-syste/