West Virginia lawmakers are considering increasing the state’s sin taxes on tobacco and adding a tax on e-cigarettes to help patch a possible $12 million gap between state spending and revenue.
The West Virginia government currently adds 55 cents to the price of each pack of cigarettes and does not impose an excise tax on e-cigarettes.
‘This Could Cost Lives’
Robert West, a professor of health psychology at University College–London’s Health Behavior Research Centre, says sin taxes on e-cigarettes reduce the public’s health at the expense of budgets’ health.
“If, as seems likely, raising taxes on e-cigarettes deters smokers from using them to stop smoking, this could cost lives,” West said. “This is because, like other nicotine replacement products, when used in a quit attempt, evidence from randomized controlled trials and one large ‘real world’ study have shown that they roughly double the chances of success.”
West says e-cigarettes’ increasing popularity has reduced smoking and improved public health.
“Contrary to some claims in the United States [and] in the United Kingdom, there is currently no evidence that e-cigarettes are increasing youth uptake of smoking at a population level,” West said. “In fact, the increased availability and use of e-cigarettes has coincided with a larger fall in youth and adult smoking than has been seen for several years.”
‘Doesn’t Make Any Sense’
James Shaffer, president of the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, says West Virginia has a tradition of employing common sense when making policy.
“Tobacco has traditionally not been taxed in West Virginia very much at all,” Shaffer said.
“Arguments can be made that [e-cigarettes] are a way to help get people off of cigarettes, so it doesn’t make any sense from a public health perspective to tax the heck out of these things when we are trying to discourage the use of tobacco.”
Replacing Coal Taxes
Shaffer says sin taxes on tobacco and e-cigarettes are bad public policy.
“You keep relying on the cigarette tax, but as people get off of cigarettes, how do you replace the tax?” Shaffer said. “So where’s the offset in public health? That’s the real disconnect.”
Some lawmakers are more interested in offsetting flagging revenues from energy taxes than improving public health, Shaffer says.
“From their perspective, I think they are looking for every possible source of revenue because coal is diminishing as a viable source of energy production, and extractive taxes have always been relied on, so there is a sense of desperation.”
Tony Corvo ([email protected]) writes from Beavercreek, Ohio.
Jamie Brown, et al., “Real-World Effectiveness Of E-Cigarettes When Used To Aid Smoking Cessation: A Cross-Sectional Population Study,” Addiction: https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/real-world-effectiveness-e-cigarettes-when-used-aid-smoking-cessation-cross-section/