When the news broke about Chicago raising tobacco taxes, and raising the minimum age to buy cigarettes to 21, I scoured articles to find a mention of e-cigarettes. All I found were articles talking about how this is part of the city’s initiative to promote a “tobacco-free” lifestyle and “public health.” I thought maybe a miracle had occurred and Chicago was finally acknowledging the potential benefits of e-cigarettes. I thought wrong. Previous reports had mentioned that the ordinance would include e-cigarettes, and I eventually found an article that says, yes, e-cigarettes are included in this You’d think a city so concerned about keeping Chicago “tobacco-free” and promoting public health would be less eager to raise the minimum age to purchase a smoking alternative that Public Health England stated was up to “95% less harmful” than cigarettes. Let’s not forget that Chicago also raised taxes on e-cigarettes to a ridiculous amount, and launched a widespread campaign of misinformation and scare tactics against vaping. On the surface, it looks like Chicago really does care about its residents...as if it’s out to get big tobacco. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that there’s likely more to the story. For one, as a recent article about raising the e-cigarette purchase age indicates, this strategy can easily backfire. Further consequences to raising the minimum age (and also the taxes) for e-cigarettes and cigarettes include a potential black market for tobacco cigarettes. It also makes you wonder where all these sin taxes actually go. The sin taxes on tobacco are paid by consumers, allegedly to discourage them from smoking and to cover government costs for smoking cessation programs. As the situation in New York proves, high prices don’t discourage people from smoking because they are addicted to cigarettes. The only thing that has helped people begin to think of quitting has been smarter options. But if everyone quit smoking, states would lose all that tax money, which isn’t being used to help people quit, of course. In 2012, the CDC reported that roughly 3 percent of the money made from tobacco taxation was put toward funding programs aimed at tobacco prevention, according to CBS News. So, the government does not care about tobacco prevention, and the government does not care about harm reduction, according to these statistics. The government cares about big tobacco’s money, and big tobacco has plenty to spare.
According to Altria (our old buddies Philip Morris), state and federal governments make more than 30 billion dollars a year from cigarette taxes. This tax is paid by retailers and everyday consumers who end up shelling out up to $120 for a carton of smokes. Meanwhile, big tobacco pays roughly six cents a cigarette, or $12 per carton.
So, why tax vaping so abusively? Why pick on the little guys? As public health advocate David Sweanor explains, “these attacks on vaping are nothing new in the realm of nicotine policy. There is a very long history of alternative products that appear to have the potential to challenge the market dominance of cigarettes by allowing consumers far less hazardous ways to get nicotine. In each case the threat has been seen off, leaving the tobacco companies free to continue their exceedingly lucrative and depressingly deadly oligopoly.”This makes sense, as vaping is such a potential threat to big tobacco that Reynolds, Altria, and other companies have made their own, arguably less appealing, e-cigs. The big guys have entered the ring, and the little brick and mortar vape shops are being picked off one by one due to e-cigarette taxes only big tobacco can afford. So, if cities like Chicago and states across the country claim to stand behind a tobacco-free way of living, but are failing to fund tobacco cessation programs, and are restricting tobacco-free e-cigarettes. Really makes you wonder where all that tax money goes.