Research & Commentary: Vaping Taxes and Bans Hurt Smokers Trying to Quit

Published November 3, 2017

Electronic cigarettes are growing in popularity, and as a result, state and local governments are considering whether and how the products should be regulated and taxed.

Electronic cigarettes have proven to be effective products for tobacco harm reduction. In a Heartland Institute booklet titled “Vaping, E-Cigarettes, and Public Policy Toward Alternatives to Smoking,” Dr. Brad Rodu, senior fellow for Heartland, argued, “It is the smoke produced by burning tobacco, not the ingestion of nicotine, that ought to be the target of public health campaigns.”

Electronic cigarettes have been proven to be an effective tobacco harm reduction product. Mimicking the sensations of tobacco cigarettes, a 2015 report by Public Health England (PHE) found e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than traditional tobacco cigarettes. PHE also concluded e-cigarettes “could help reduce smoking related disease, death and health inequalities.”

E-cigarettes simulate the physical and psychological act of smoking while eliminating most of the harmful chemicals and smoke found in conventional cigarettes. Vaping is not the same as smoking, and they argue many vapers use e-cigarettes to stop smoking. Banning the use of e-cigarettes in private establishments, like excessive regulation and taxation of these products, would be a shortsighted decision ignoring the benefits of e-cigarettes as a nicotine replacement therapy. One study, conducted in 2013 by an international group of researchers and published in the Oxford Journals, found no harmful levels of carcinogens or toxic levels of any chemical in e-cigarette vapor.

Lawmakers in several counties have also considered banning vaping flavors. Flavored nicotine is important for electronic cigarettes to remain a tobacco harm reduction tool. A 2016 Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association survey of 27,343 e-cigarette users found 72 percent of respondents “credited tasty flavors with helping them give up tobacco.” A 2013 internet study by the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center concluded flavorings in e-cigarettes “appear to contribute to both perceived pleasure and the effort to reduce cigarette consumption or quit smoking.”

If former smokers are forced to use only the flavors that simulate traditional tobacco cigarettes, some may return to cigarettes. In a December 2015 Policy Study from the R Street Institute, Dr. Edward Anselm, an R Street Institute senior fellow and the medical director of Health Republic Insurance of New Jersey, concluded the presence of flavorings in electronic cigarettes greatly aids smokers looking to quit using traditional tobacco cigarettes. Anselm says there is no “evidence that suggests children are drawn to tobacco products specifically because of flavor.”

Some governments have also moved to add punitive new taxes on vaping products, in many cases treating them as though they are traditional tobacco products. Imposing excise taxes on vaping products is not justified from a public health perspective, and it removes a prime economic incentive for smokers to improve their health by switching to e-cigarettes.

Taxes on vapor products are highly regressive and unduly burden moderate- and low-income individuals. In a Cato Journal article, Kevin Callison and Robert Kaestner found from “2010 to 2011, smokers earning less than $30,000 per year spent 14.2 percent of their household income on cigarettes, compared to 4.3 percent for smokers earning between $30,000 and $59,999 and 2 percent for smokers earning more than $60,000.” This would be true for vapor products as well, since the overwhelming majority of people who vape are or were smokers.

Placing excise taxes and bans on vaping products deter current smokers from quitting more-harmful combustible cigarettes, disproportionately harm low-income taxpayers, and punish local businesses. If state lawmakers prevent local governments from imposing regressive taxes and bans on vaping products, it could have a positive impact on public health, by helping more tobacco smokers quit.

The following documents examine vaping bans and taxes in greater detail.

Vaping, E-Cigarettes, and Public Policy Toward Alternatives to Smoking
For decades, lawmakers and regulators have used taxes, bans, and burdensome regulations as part of their attempt to reduce the negative health effects of smoking. Recently, some have sought to extend those policies to electronic cigarettes. This booklet from The Heartland Institute urges policymakers to re-think that tax-and-regulate strategy. Policymakers should be mindful of the extensive research that supports tobacco harm reduction and understand bans, excessive regulations, and high taxes on e-cigarettes often encourage smokers to continue using more-harmful traditional cigarette products.

Qualitative Study on E-cigarettes Shows More Evidence of Tobacco Harm Reduction
In this Research & Commentary, Heartland Institute Government Relations Coordinator Lindsey Stroud examines a study, published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in June 2016, that provides additional evidence showing e-cigarettes and vaporized nicotine products (VNPs) are an effective tobacco harm-reduction tool.

Nicotine Without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction
This report provides an update on the use of tobacco harm reduction strategies related to non-tobacco nicotine products, particularly e-cigarettes. The authors conclude for all the potential risks involved, harm reduction has significant potential to prevent death and disability caused by tobacco use and to hasten the nation’s progress toward a tobacco-free society. 

Five Things to Consider Before Raising Tobacco Taxes: A Review of the Research
This Heartland Institute Policy Brief argues, “Tax increases above current levels are not justified by appealing to the costs smokers impose on nonsmokers. Smokers already pay more than this measure could justify.”

Peering Through the Mist: Systematic Review of What the Chemistry of Contaminants in Electronic Cigarettes Tells Us about Health Risks
Electronic cigarettes are generally recognized as a safer alternative to combusted tobacco products, but there are conflicting claims about the potential health concerns these products may present. This paper reviews the available data on the chemistry of aerosols and liquids of electronic cigarettes and compares modeled exposure of vapers with occupational safety standards. 

Research & Commentary: New CDC Report Finds Vaping Helps Smokers Quit
A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found only 0.4 percent of the people who had never smoked tobacco in a CDC study group are current vapers, which the report defines as using a vaping device either every day or some days. The CDC report, the first of its kind, estimates e-cigarette use among U.S. adults using a nationally representative household survey. The report finds only 3.4 percent of adults who have never smoked have tried an e-cigarette; 12.6 percent of Americans have tried an e-cigarette; and fewer than 4 percent of the U.S. population are regular e-cigarette users.

E-Cigarettes Are Making Tobacco Obsolete. So Why Ban Them?
Matt Ridley reports vaping works better than any other method of giving up smoking, and he examines several studies reaching this conclusion. Ridley asks why cities are banning vaping products given the large amount of evidence present showing their success in helping smokers quit. 

E-Cigarette Primer for State and Local Lawmakers
Joel Nitzkin provides evidence e-cigarettes work as a tobacco harm reduction modality and reviews the arguments against them. He closes with recommendations for actions state and local lawmakers should and should not consider regarding tobacco harm reduction and e-cigarettes. 


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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