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.
Grand Forks, ND (WDAY/WDAZ TV) – North Dakota will have to decide on whether to increase taxes on not only tobacco products, but also e-cigs.
If passed, traditional cigarette tax will go from $0.44 a pack to $2.20.
Vaping product liquid tax would then increase from 28% to 56%.
Owners of SNG Vapor in Grand Forks say e-cigs have helped many people quit smoking traditional cigarettes.
A question that many people have is whether or not E-Cigs are considered tobacco products.
Public health officials and backers of the measure argue that liquid nicotine used in electronic cigarettes is but, users disagree saying that the two very different
“The FDA hasn’t made their deeming regulations. It’s not fair to lump us in with tobacco. Tobacco is combustion, tobacco is a leaf, it’s the grainy portion you know it’s the physical part it’s not a liquid. It’s not creating any fire it’s not creating a spark it’s not burning anything that’s bad for you and we’ve taken all the excess junk out of all of the between 4000 to 6000 chemicals in a normal cigarette and we dumbed it down to just four things,” said Heather Nelson of SNG Vapor.
Minnesota became the first state to tax vapor products in 2012 by imposing a tax of 95% of their wholesale price.
ANN SANNER, Associated Press
COLUMBUS – Ohio lawmakers should increase the tobacco tax, raise the tobacco-buying age to 21 and ban the sale of crib bumpers, according to a state panel tasked with addressing infant mortality.
The recommendations are among dozens in a report by the Ohio Commission on Infant Mortality released Tuesday.
Ohio’s infant mortality rate has been among the worst in the nation. Infant mortality is measured as deaths of live-born babies before their first birthdays. The three leading causes in Ohio are pre-term births, sleep-related deaths and birth defects.
The state’s overall infant mortality rate was 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, according the most recent data from 2014. And the rate for black babies was roughly three times that of whites.
Lawmakers created the commission last year to take an inventory of state programs that seek to combat infant mortality. Its recommendations come as the state has been working with hospitals, community groups, local health departments and others in nine urban areas with high rates of infant deaths. Such partnerships seek to address issues high-risk groups face, such as access to food, health care, transportation and social supports.
State Sen. Shannon Jones, a Springboro Republican who co-chaired the commission, said Ohio’s infant mortality problem disproportionately affects low-income black families in urban neighborhoods that have “largely been left behind as the economy has grown.”
“Birth outcomes simply cannot improve unless we address these adverse conditions and underlying inequities found in the places where many of these families live,” Jones said in releasing the commission’s report at a Statehouse press conference.
The report includes policy recommendations for state lawmakers, state agencies, infant mortality collaborative organizations and state grantees.
The commission did not call for a specific tobacco tax increase, though Jones said she plans to include the idea in legislation she and Democratic Sen. Charleta Tavares of Columbus are expected to introduce.
Other recommendations from the commission include:
— Publishing statewide infant mortality data each quarter.
— Requiring cultural competency training for health care providers.
— Permitting pharmacists to administer the hormone progesterone and contraceptive injections of Depo-Provera.
— Specifying pregnancy as a priority in emergency shelter and housing tax credit programs.
— Placing pregnant women in family homeless shelters rather than single adult shelters.
Ohio Commission on Infant Mortality: http://1.usa.gov/1LEtZbZ