Seeing through the haze of tobacco and vaping tax proposal

Proposition 56, on California’s Nov. 8 ballot, is flawed. It would impose a heavy tax on small businesses, it would kill jobs, and it would be a big step backward in accomplishing the goal of protecting the health of state residents.

Prop. 56 misleads voters by falsely implying that the harmful health effects of tobacco are similar to those of vapor products. Broadly speaking, the measure is dangerous to public health.

Under this measure, vapor products would be taxed by more than 300 percent, making these products so expensive that California’s 3.8 million smokers will be less likely to consider them as alternatives to combustible cigarettes. Nowhere in the initiative is this tax explained.

An astronomical increase in the cost of vapor products puts jobs and the many small businesses in the state that sell these devices to adult consumers at risk, forcing these companies to fire employees, relocate or even close down their shops.

Millions of former smokers in California and around the world already have switched to vaping, which science says is more than 95 percent less harmful than combustible tobacco. Among those drawing that conclusion is Britain’s Royal College of Physicians, one of the world’s leading medical institutions. in fact, according to researchers at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Cancer Center, the use of vaporized nicotine products may end up triggering a 21 percent reduction in smoking-attributable deaths and a 20 percent decrease in life-years lost.

Prop. 56 overlooks the potential for vapor products to help to reduce the public harm caused by smoking, which accounts for California’s 37,000 deaths and $18 billion in economic and health-care costs each year, including the impact on Medi-Cal patients, among whom the prevalence of smoking is more than double the national average.

This initiative only puts more money in the hands of special interest groups, with 82 percent going to fund doctor salaries and training, as well as protecting inefficient programs that are losing money from declining tobacco tax revenues as smoking consumption rates continue to fall.

Interestingly, only 11 percent will go to smoking cessation programs. The sad truth is that California received $1.52 billion in excise taxes and settlements in 2014, but used only 4.3 percent on prevention and cessation programs. Prop. 56 also will pay for programs aimed at discouraging people from using vapor products.

At the same time, one of the arguments for raising tobacco taxes is that California lags behind the rest of the country. The fact is that California’s smoking rate has dropped to the second lowest of any state, thanks in part to vapor products. And claims that this tax will protect minors couldn’t be farther from the truth, since vapor products are only sold in age-verified venues and the legal age to vape in California is now 21 years old.

Despite what proponents of this measure may claim when it comes to underage use, the average age of a vaper is 39 and recent data from the National Institute of Health’s Monitoring the Future survey found decreases in teen smoking and e-cigs over the last two years.

Voters must understand the stark differences between vapor products and combustible cigarettes. Prop. 56 is just more of the same: government trying to fund programs on the backs of hard-working Californians.

Kari Hess is owner of Nor Cal Vape in Redding, Calif., and co-president of the NorCal chapter of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association.

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