This editorial originally appeared on Michigan Live on November 25, 2014.
A fierce regulatory fight has played out in a large number of state capitols over the past year on whether e-cigarettes and vapor products should be categorized as tobacco products. These disruptive, innovative, and potentially life-saving devices are being used by millions of people on a daily basis and stand to accomplish what social engineers and government bureaucrats have not been able to with stiff regulations and high taxes: getting people to quit smoking.
E-cigarettes and vapor products are battery operated devices that produce a vapor mist which mimics smoking without the harmful effects of tar and smoke. They are safer alternatives to cigarettes and should be treated as such. Lumping these products into the onerous regulatory tobacco products category could hurt public health and curb the market’s growth potential.
Although the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ranks Michigan 9th in the nation for the prevalence of adult smoking, a recent study found that Michigan ranks second in the nation for the number of smokers trying to kick their unhealthy habit. Vapor products can help. If the government lets them.
There certainly are vapor consumer and industry-supported state regulations that could be signed by Governor Snyder today. He should sign the common sense legislation passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the legislature earlier this year that would ban the sale of the products to minors, as has been done in 41 other states. These bipartisan bills are not being held up by bureaucratic error. Instead, the hold up appears to be Gov. Snyder himself, who has signaled that the bills may be vetoed. “One of the real issues is, is it a tobacco product or not and should it be treated like a tobacco product?” Snyder said at a news conference in June.
Classifying vapor products separately from traditional tobacco products is the smarter choice for smokers and for Michigan small businesses that are competing with Big Tobacco. These products are smoke-free, tobacco-free, and are most often being used by smokers looking to quit or cut back. Other states seem to agree, as while 41 states have laws banning sales of vapor products to minors, just five classify the devices as “tobacco products” and only two impose excise taxes on their sale.
To their credit, the activist groups that have been lobbying Gov. Snyder to veto these bills (and keep e-cigarettes available to minors) have been quite transparent in their reasoning. If e-cigarettes aren’t classified as tobacco, their argument goes, it will make it tougher to convince legislators in the future to impose tobacco-style taxes on the products. They aren’t concerned about public health; they’re simply concerned about generating more money for state spending programs.
And these groups have somewhat of an ally that may surprise many: Big Tobacco. Outgoing Senator Randy Richardville’s (R-Monroe) SB 1018 has the support of RJ Reynolds and Altria, the largest tobacco companies in the U.S. The bill would raise taxes on e-cigarettes or vapor products while cutting taxes on smokeless tobacco, a win-win for companies trying to elbow the competition provided by small businesses out of the market. Efforts to make the safer of these products less affordable should be rejected.
A recent study demonstrates exactly why. In August, the journal Addiction published a study on the the impact of vaping on cigarette quit rates in the United Kingdom. It found that smokers who attempted to quit with e-cigarettes were twice as likely to succeed as those using products like nicotine gum or the patch (20% vs. 10%). With these success rates, it’s no wonder why results of the UK’s monthly Smoking Toolkit Study show that since early-2013 e-cigarettes have been the country’s most popular quitting method.
Perfect is often the enemy of good. Today, a 14-year-old can legally purchase an e-cigarette in Michigan convenience stores. Governor Snyder should immediately sign the youth products ban legislation and save the regulatory and tax debate for another day. To hold the youth products ban hostage over the debate about how to make money off the products or whether or not to treat them like tobacco makes little sense.
The Governor should also reject Big Tobacco’s SB1018 which benefits out-of-state multi-billion companies who are profiting off of America’s addiction to tobacco. Increasing taxes on vapor products flies in the face of common sense. Smokers looking for an effective way to quit may be hesitant to do so if it becomes more expensive. This hurts nearly all public health goals of the past 50 years.
Gregory Conley is president of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit that advocates for the small- and medium-sized businesses in the vapor market.