Among the few new taxes to win the Vermont House’s seal of approval last month was a pair targeting popular tobacco products. One would raise roughly $700,000 by taxing snuff and smokeless tobacco at a rate comparable to cigarettes. PETER shumlin doesn’t think much of the proposals- and he’s hoping the Senate will, in its infinite wisdom, plot a different course…
By Heintz, Paul
Among the few new taxes to win the Vermont House’s seal of approval last month was a pair targeting popular tobacco products. One would raise roughly $700,000 by taxing snuff and smokeless tobacco at a rate comparable to cigarettes. Another would raise $500,000 by creating à new, 92 percent tax on electronic cigarettes, a nicotine-based product used to simulate smoking.
Gov. PETER shumlin doesn’t think much of the proposals – and he’s hoping the Senate will, in its infinite wisdom, plot a different course as it finalizes its own tax bill in the coming weeks.
The gov’s stance isn’t surprising because he has consistently opposed most new sales and excise taxes. What is surprising is that, in explaining his position, Shumlin argues that there are potential health benefits to e-cigarettes – a claim not widely accepted by the public health community.
“My own view on e-cigarettes is that we should be cautious about taxing a product that we think might be gettin’ some folks off of tobacco,” he said at a recent press conference. “So, you know, I’m willing to listen, but my own nonscientific research has found folks who are able to finally get off tobacco products because they’re using e-cigarettes. I think the verdict’s still out on them.”
The verdict may still be out, but plenty of jurors seem to think e-cigarettes are guilty.
The World Health Organization, for one, said last year that “consumers should be strongly advised not to use” e-cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, found that e-cig use by middle and high school students doubled from 2011 to 2012, and calls to poison control centers – often involving young children – have skyrocketed.
Closer to home, Shumlin’s own Vermont Department of Health appears to disagree with the conclusions of the governor’s “nonscientific research.”
“The health department supports using proven [smoking] cessation methods, which e-cigarettes are not,” says rhonda williams, acting director of the department’s Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
According to Williams, the state believes e-cigarettes contribute to youths taking up tobacco, and she says higher excise taxes have been shown to reduce traditional cigarette use among adults and young people.
“While it’s still early to say whether levying taxes on e-cigarettes will decrease their use, there is acknowledgment that it will likely discourage use, especially among price-sensitive youth,” she says.
But asked about the body of research contradicting his opinion, Shumlin said at the presser, “All I can tell you is that, anecdotally, I’ve spoken to folks who don’t feel that way. This is a new product, a relatively new product I’m not sure that the first thing we should do is tax it out of existence.”