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Why Are American Legislatures Supporting The Cigarette Trade?

New research published in the scientific journal Value in Health this month has further confirmed that anti-vaping statutes being implemented in some states are helping to increase cigarette sales. This new research confirms earlier studies and shows that any move to implement anti-vaping legislation is irresponsible policymaking.

Using state-level cigarette sales data, the authors found that a full ban on nicotine vaping products in Massachusetts led to 7.5% higher-than-expected per capita cigarette sales. In Rhode Island and Washington, where vaping flavors apart from tobacco were completely banned, there was an average 4.6% higher-than-expected per capita cigarette sales. Based on these data, the conclusion was that an additional 3.4 million cigarette packs were needlessly sold across the three states during the three-month study period in 2019.

Yet, despite this, there has been a flurry of bills in early 2022 from lawmakers in numerous states which (although stopping short of a total ban on vapes as happened in Massachusetts) routinely aim to implement the same bans on flavors as were put in place in Rhode Island and Washington.

Perhaps state lawmakers are acting with good intentions. But, legislating to ban flavors, which are a fundamental factor in distancing vapers from their former smoking habit, can only result in increases in sales of cigarettes, as epidemiological evidence is beginning to confirm.

Other state bills currently being debated are seeking to apply excise duty or “sin taxes” to vaping products, either solely or in tandem with flavor bans. These taxes will only further deter smokers from looking for a safer alternative. Since combustible cigarettes and vaping products are economic substitutes – meaning that nicotine users will react to adverse treatment of one product by switching to the other – piling extra costs on e-cigarettes and e-liquid, will only help boost sales of cigarettes which contribute to 480,000 smoking-related deaths in the U.S. every year.

Philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill described the effect of sin taxes in his celebrated work, “On Liberty,” published in 1859. He wrote, “To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained, is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition; and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable. Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price.”

Therefore, not only do taxes on vaping products drive vapers back to smoking and make it less likely that smokers will opt for vapes, which are at least 95% less harmful than smoking. And, it is usually the least well off who would be the first demographic for which taxation impacts their choice whether to vape or to smoke. Considering smoking is far more prevalent in lower socio-economic groups, an objective observer could easily believe that such policy proposals must surely have been designed to protect the cigarette industry’s core market in combustible tobacco rather than to encourage quitting.

At a national level, the situation is even worse. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates vaping products in the U.S., has so far banned 99% of products from vape manufacturers seeking pre-market approval for sale. It is astonishing that after decades of warning of the health harms of smoking, state and national level legislatures are now doing their utmost to destroy the appeal of the less risky alternative.  When presented with a product which is orders of magnitude safer than combustible tobacco, states are trying to make the products less affordable relative to cigarettes, or to ban their sale entirely.

Each time a measure is passed to ban flavors, increase taxation, or prohibit sale of reduced-risk options, it adds further obstacles to the vaping market, while protecting the incumbent combustible cigarette trade from competition.

Regulation should never make reduced-risk products less attractive or less competitive compared to cigarettes without a good justification. However, there is currently a slew of proposed legislation from state representatives, including the federal government, opposed to vape products which is based on emotion and ideology rather than sound evidence.  Ultimately, and most worrisome, these actions are boosting cigarette sales throughout the country.

Martin Cullip is an international fellow at The Taxpayers Protection Alliance’s Consumer Center and is based in South London, United Kingdom.

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