The upcoming Special Session is likely to have its share of political drama and made for TV nightly news antics but in the end, it is incumbent that we all remember that every law that is passed and every law that fails in this, and every other legislative session has a very real world impact on the very real citizens of Alabama. Laws can help the people of this state and laws can hurt the people of this state. It all depends on the choices that the 140 elected men and women of the Alabama House and Senate make.
In his call, Gov. Robert Bentley is asking those very men and women to pass a tax on e-cigarettes, vapors and related products. (The specifics of that legislation will not be known until the bill is actually filed.) He is asking them to lump these products in with a tax on tobacco and to treat them as similar products. That makes about as much sense as passing a bill to tax fast food and adding apples and bananas to the mix. Tax fast cars and add a Model T to the list. E-cigs and vapor products have nothing in common with cigarettes and to treat them as similar products in order to raise revenue is not only misguided, it stands to hurt thousands of Alabamians.
Vapors and e-cigarettes are not tobacco products. They produce no smoke. There is no flame involved. No lighters, no igniter, no flame is to be found anywhere with these items. They don’t produce smoke. They emit water vapor. That’s right: water vapor. There is a lot of misinformation about these products and lawmakers should make every effort to educate themselves on the facts before passing such a misguided law:
Myth: Vapors and e-cigarettes are just another form of smoking
Fact: Numerous medical studies show that vapors and e-cigarettes are not smoking. In fact, just the opposite is true. Studies show that vapors and e-cigarettes are among the most effective smoking cessation (quitting smoking) products available. Even the American Heart Association’s Circulation Journal published a 2014 study that determined that the smoking cessation success rate for former smokers who use vapor nicotine products was substantially higher than other nicotine replacements therapies including nicotine gun, patches and lozenges.
Myth: The vapors from these products cause harm to those around users much like second-hand smoke
Fact: The output is simply water vapor and is completely harmless.
Myth: Vapors and e-cigarettes encourage non-smokers to smoke.
Fact: Longitudinal studies show that less than 3 percent of people who have never smoked cigarettes will try an e-cigarette or vapor product.
Myth: Driving these companies out of business won’t hurt the economy.
Fact: More than 2,000 Alabamians are employed as a result of the e-cigarette and vapor business. That is more people than will be employed by Remington and almost four times as many people as will be employed by Google’s Alabama location. These are real Alabamians that are at risk of losing their jobs if this tax passes.
Myth: Taxing vapors and e-cigarettes will generate revenue for the state of Alabama
Fact: Overwhelming evidence shows that imposing a tax on e-cigarettes and vapor products will make them too expensive and will force many who have stopped smoking in favor of vapor and/or e-cigarettes to return to smoking cigarettes due to the cost. This will have a net negative effect on the Medicaid budget for the state which will shoulder a portion of the cost of the health issues of those who returned to smoking cigarettes.
Tens of thousands of Alabamians who have tried everything to quit smoking and who have repeatedly failed have found success with the assistance of vaping. They have, once and for all, put down their deadly and costly cigarette habit in favor of a much healthier alternative. They are now far less likely to develop lung cancer and other diseases than they were when they were tobacco users. They develop fewer lung infections and can breathe easier. Their children are no longer impacted by the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. They are healthier and Alabama is healthier because they have given up cigarettes. Now, we want to tax them? Why?
In his press conference, Bentley stated that he was including e-cigs in his smoking tax legislation because “they contain nicotine.” That is true. Many smoking cessation products contain nicotine so why aren’t products like Nicorette gum and other nicotine replacement therapies included in this schizophrenic proposal? Nicorette is far less effective at ending a smoking addiction than e-cigarettes are so it would actually do less harm to Alabamians to tax that product instead. It would still be ridiculous, but less so that a vaping tax. You can just add that to the list of things that don’t make sense about this bill.
If the legislature, in all its wisdom, chooses to pass a tax on e-cigs and vaping products, they will be making horrible public policy.
They will be telling people like Stephanie, a cancer survivor and single mother from Birmingham, that they don’t care that she won’t be available to afford the e-juice that keeps her from smoking cigarettes and that, in fact, keeps her alive.
They will send a signal to everyone who has quit and everyone who will quit using vapor products that taxing the products is more important than their very lives. They are telling 2,000 employees and more than 100 retail store owners that they don’t matter.
The saddest part is that, in the end, the vaping tax will actually cost Alabama’s general fund much more money that it will ever raise. As people fall back into smoking cigarettes, they will be more likely to develop expensive and lethal diseases that will kill them. The treatments are expensive and Medicaid, which is funded by the already overburdened General Fund, will shoulder most of the cost.
A lot of things about government don’t make sense but this absolutely takes the cake.
Quitting smoking is hard enough already. Why should the government make it even harder?
Angi Stalnaker is an Alabama native who, as a political consultant, has worked on numerous statewide, legislative and constitutional amendment races for conservative causes and candidates. For more information about her visit Virtus Solutions.