By John Hageman
Heather Nelson is well-versed in the arguments over electronic cigarettes.
Armed with a stack of printed news clippings behind the glass counter at her Grand Forks shop, SnG Vapor, she’s adamant that the products her business sells helps smokers quit traditional cigarettes.
But Nelson worries that a proposed tax in North Dakota will harm her business and present an obstacle for those looking to stop smoking.
“I don’t think it’s fair to boost the tax on something that’s actually helping them,” she said.
But public health officials and backers of the proposed ballot measure argue the liquid nicotine used in electronic cigarettes is a tobacco product, and therefore it should be taxed as such. Moreover, they say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not identified electronic cigarettes as a smoking cessation product.
The proposal to tax vaping products is included in the ballot language put forth by Raise it for Health North Dakota, which is focused on increasing the state’s cigarette tax from 44 cents a pack to $2.20 a pack. The measure would classify liquid nicotine that’s derived from tobacco as a tobacco product and would raise the tax on it and other items from 28 percent to 56 percent of the wholesale purchase price.
Aside from the larger debate over raising taxes on traditional cigarettes, the proposal is likely to open discussion on the merits of electronic cigarettes, a relatively new product that has grown rapidly in popularity. Though it is much smaller than the traditional cigarette market, the vapor market grew by 23 percent in 2014, according to a Tax Foundation report released earlier this week, and several shops selling e-cigarettes have opened in Grand Forks in recent years.
Dr. Eric Johnson, a Grand Forks physician and chairman of the committee organizing the ballot measure, said electronic cigarettes are subject to sales tax in North Dakota but not a specific tobacco tax. He pointed out that more than 20 North Dakota cities, including Grand Forks, consider electronic cigarettes tobacco products for the purposes of preventing their sale to minors.
“It’s just kind of an example of the law not really keeping up with technology,” Johnson said. “The e-cig vape technology, they’re tobacco products by about just any medical definition.”
Looking at the data
Mike Jacobs smoked cigarettes for more than 20 years before picking up an e-cigarette last year.
“My last cigarette was Nov. 11,” he said from the other side of the counter at SnG Vapor, which is on South 18th Street just south of DeMers Avenue.
Nelson points to Jacobs as one story of how the products at her store can help people dump traditional cigarettes. She also cited the Public Health England’s statement last year that vaping is safer than smoking, though the agency stressed the products aren’t without risk, according to the Guardian.
That was echoed in the Tax Foundation’s report, which argued “vapor products have the potential to be a boon to public health by acting as a less risky alternative to traditional incinerated cigarettes.”
“Further, to the extent that smoking cessation is a stipulated goal of tobacco taxation, exposing vapor products, which many see as a promising cessation method, to such hefty tax rates as traditional tobacco would be counterproductive,” the report added.
But not everyone is convinced.
Johnson said electronic cigarettes are not FDA-approved as smoking cessation devices and there isn’t sufficient evidence that they help people quit traditional cigarettes. Indeed, a study published in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine in January found adult smokers who use e-cigarettes were less likely to quit smoking, according to CBS News.
“If they had data, I would recommend them just like any other stop-smoking product,” Johnson said. “Since we don’t really know whether these help or promote use, it’s very difficult as a health care provider to recommend them at this time.”
Moreover, Johnson is worried that they act as a gateway for young people to move on to other tobacco products. While the percentage of North Dakota high school students who smoke has dropped substantially over the past 20 years, roughly 20 percent of Grand Forks students use electronic vapor products, according to survey results previously provided by the Grand Forks Public Health Department.
“We’re kind of wondering, ‘Is what we’re doing in public health working or are they switching from one product to another?'” said Haley Thorson, tobacco prevention coordinator with the health department, who added they’ve “also accomplished some very successful policy initiatives in our state.”
Raise it for Health submitted its petition to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office last week. Supporters will need to collect 13,452 signatures to get the measure on November’s ballot.
Minnesota became the first state to tax vapor products in 2012 by imposing a tax of 95 percent of their wholesale price, and only a handful of other states have similar policies in place, according to the Tax Foundation.
Meanwhile, at least 25 states and the District of Columbia considered legislation to tax vapor products in 2015. North Dakota was among them, but the bill ultimately failed to become law.
“We want all of those products taxed at the same rate so one addiction doesn’t cost less than the other,” said Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, who was a sponsor of the bill last year to raise tobacco taxes and is a member of the ballot measure’s sponsoring committee. “The goal really here in this measure is to reduce the amount of people who are addicted to these products in order to keep them healthy and in order to keep our society healthy.”
But for Nelson, the tax “will put a damper” on a product she argues is helping people move away from more dangerous traditional cigarettes. She said it may prompt shops like hers to unite in opposition.
“We want to get organized and we want to be heard,” Nelson said.
ATLANTA – The latest outcomes measuring the impact of CDC’s national tobacco education campaign are as strong as those achieved in its first year, and suggest that three years into the campaign, the ads were still having a significant impact.
More than 1.8 million smokers attempted to quit smoking because of the nine-week-long 2014 Tips From Former Smokers ( Tips ) campaign. An estimated 104,000 Americans quit smoking for good as a result of the 2014 campaign.
The survey results are published in the March 24 release of the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.
Unlike the 2012 campaign, which aired for 12 consecutive weeks, the 2014 campaign aired in two phases, from Feb. 3 to April 6 and from July 7 to Sept. 7. Phase 1 of the 2014 campaign ran ads primarily from the 2012 and 2013 campaigns; Phase 2 contained new ads. Those new ads featured people and their struggles with smoking-related health issues, including cancer, gum disease, premature birth and stroke caused by smoking combined with HIV. About 80% of U.S. adult cigarette smokers who were surveyed reported seeing at least one television ad from Phase 2 of the 2014 campaign.
“CDC’s Tips campaign has helped at least 400,000 smokers quit smoking for good since 2012,” stated CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Tips is also extremely cost-effective and a best buy, saving both lives and money. With a year-round campaign we could save even more lives and money.”
Tips, the first federally funded anti-smoking paid media campaign, features former smokers talking about their smoking-related illnesses. Smoking-related diseases cost the United States more than $300 billion a year, including nearly $170 billion in direct health care costs and more than $156 billion in lost productivity.
“The Tips campaign is an important counter measure to the $1 million that the tobacco industry spends each hour on cigarette advertising and promotion,” said Corinne Graffunder, director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “The money spent in one year on Tips is less than the amount the tobacco industry spends on advertising and promotion in just 3 days.”
The most recent Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress, called for airing effective messages such as the Tips ads with high frequency and exposure for 12 months a year for a decade or more. Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the United States, killing about 480,000 Americans each year.
For every American who dies from a smoking-related disease, about 30 more suffer at least one serious illness from smoking. And while the percentage of American adults who smoke is at the lowest level since the CDC began tracking such data, there are still an estimated 40 million adult smokers in the U.S. Surveys show about 70% of all smokers want to quit, and research shows quitting completely at any age has significant health benefits.
By Dr. Eric Johnson, Grand Forks – Jamestown Sun
As a Grand Forks physician and chairman of the recently announced efforts to initiate a ballot measure to increase North Dakota’s tobacco taxes, it’s important the public be given the facts right off the bat.
First, North Dakota’s tobacco taxes have not been increased since 1993, ranking us 47th in the nation for cigarette tax rates. If passed, this measure would bring North Dakota’s cigarette tax from 44 cents per pack to $2.20 per pack, just slightly above the average of $2.08 per pack of our neighboring states.
Second, it will treat the liquid nicotine drug (smoked via electronic cigarettes) and those who sell it exactly the same as all other tobacco products.
Third, it will dedicate current revenues exactly where they currently are: to the state’s general fund and back to North Dakota’s cities. New revenues generated from the increase will be split evening between a fund created to support the unmet needs of North Dakota’s veterans and a fund to support health programs associated with chronic disease treatment, county health programs and the mental health and addiction crisis facing our state.
Luckily, North Dakota already fully funds a tobacco prevention program utilizing a small portion of the money won by the state of North Dakota when it sued tobacco companies in 1998 for lying to the public and to Congress about the deadly impacts of tobacco. No moneys from this measure will go toward these efforts.
These are the facts. Seventy-five percent of adult tobacco users started before the age of 18. Significant tobacco tax increases are proven as the most effective way to keep young people from ever starting tobacco. That’s an effort we can all support.