E Cigarettes, The Next Big Thing To Tax March 14 2014

When House Democrats released their supplemental budget package halfway through last week, they included a bill intended to fund education. But the way it generated that funding sure got some people's blood boiling, hot enough, you might say, to vaporize.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle’s HB 2795, described in the bill report as “Investing in education by clarifying laws relating to tobacco substitutes,” would apply the 95 percent Other Tobacco Products tax to e-cigarettes and other vaporizers or similar devices. 

That didn’t sit well with the people who have used e-cigs or “vaping” to get off the real stuff.

Zack McLain, co-owner of Future Vapors, said during a hearing for the bill on Feb. 28 that he smoked a pack a day for 25 years.

“I feel like [e-cigarettes] saved my life,” McLain said. “If this excessive tax goes down, it’s going to deter newbies to come in and give it a shot. They’re going to get those health effects [of smoking cigarettes] and end up in a hospital with tubes sticking out of their body.”

In fact, even those “vehemently against smoking,” like Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, argued against the tax. 

“These people are doing God’s work,” Muri said during the hearing. “I think we should not tax them, but we should tax exempt them.”

Electronic cigarettes and other vaporizing products contain no tobacco and may or may not contain nicotine, along with flavors, in liquid form that is heated up and atomized for inhalation. The jury is still out on whether these devices are actually a healthy alternative to smoking, but they have boomed as an alternative in recent years.

According to statistics from the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, the number of e-cigarette smokers has gone from 50,000 in 2008 to an estimated 5 million in 2012.

Despite the popularity of these little water boilers, state and local governments have begun snubbing them out.

Los Angeles recently put them under the same restrictions as regular cigarettes and Western considered doing the same last fall. Now, Washington lawmakers aren’t looking to ban e-cigs — far from it — but rather get some significant revenue from them: $3.4 million in the first year, $38 million in the 2015-17 biennium, and, wait for it, $76 million in the 2017-19 biennium.

That’s no couch change. 

But all the outrage against the measure has made an impact, and some legislators don’t see a future for the tax.

Not one person who signed up to testify on the bill during its public hearing was in favor of the measure, and leadership in the Senate has already indicated the bill won’t get support there.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, the Senate Republican Leader, said he had gotten more “original, thoughtful comments” about the tax than any other bill since legislators began using email.

“We need a broader, regional, national discussion of where this policy fits,” Schoesler said Wednesday, March 5, at a House and Senate Republicans press conference. “Is it a smoking cessation device? Is it less harmful?”

Suffice to say, he and other Republican leaders sounded less than confident the tax would make it into a final package. And with only a week left in the session, that package may still be a long way off.

Daniel DeMay is a Western senior covering the legislative session for the Skagit Valley Herald. He writes a weekly column for The Western Front about political developments in Olympia.

 

Electronic cigarettes: The next big thing — to tax, The Western Front, March 14, 2013, Daniel DeMay