It makes no sense to tax e-cigarettes like their cancer-causing alternative.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration issued a proposal to regulate electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product. While public health and industry experts debate this much-anticipated regulation, a handful of Senate Democrats are quietly promoting the pernicious idea of extending tobacco taxes to e-cigarettes. Taxing e-cigarettes would threaten public health by penalizing a product that holds the promise of luring people away from the traditional cigarettes that have caused so much death and disease.
Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., have each introduced or co-sponsored one or more bills that, if enacted, would extend federal tobacco taxes to e-cigarettes once the FDA finalizes its proposal. Taxing e-cigarettes like their cancer-causing alternative, traditional tobacco, is absurd. The evidence to date tells us that e-cigarettes are safe when compared to conventional cigarettes.
Because no tobacco leaves are combusted, there are no carcinogenic tars and gases in e-cigarettes. Instead, a heating element converts a liquid solution of nicotine into an aerosol that users inhale as a vapor. Surveys show that users are predominantly former heavy smokers who switched completely or cut down on smoking. Many of them turned to e-cigarettes after failing to get results with nicotine gum or patches. Of course, e-cigarettes do provide nicotine, but the health effects of nicotine are generally benign. And the other ingredients in e-cigarettes – propylene glycol and glycerin, as well as nitrosamines, cadmium, lead and nickel in small amounts – are either generally accepted as safe or are present in such low levels as to likely be harmless.