Things were starting to look a little bit scary for fellow vapers in Utah when lawmakers proposed a 86.5% tax increase on vape products. Early March offered a small bit of reprieve when the bill failed to pass in the House. But this got me to thinking about tobacco taxes, and wondering why we have to tax one of the most popular forms of tobacco harm reduction, e-cigarettes, instead of using tobacco taxes to really inform the public aboout the options you have for smoking alternatives or smoking cessation.
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 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. In some states, smokers pay upwards of $100 a carton.
So, big tobacco isn't taking much of a hit. The customers are taking a hit because they're forced to pay more for products they're addicted to. If the money isn't going toward smoking cessation programs, and the high prices aren't discouraging smokers to quit, maybe they can turn to vaping, which is the most popular smoking alternative
in the UK. Many New Yorkers turned to vaping after cigarette prices skyrocketed there.
Did the government see this as a potential victory in their "war on smoking"? No. State after state has thrown e-cigarettes in with cigarettes and added crazy taxes to vape products too. This forces the little guy out of business and keeps big tobacco in power, so the government can keep raking in tax dollars.
Still, 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. Really makes you wonder where all that tax money goes.