A new measure designed to produce much-needed tax revenue for the District of Columbia will accomplish the opposite, while seriously harming public health. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council are contemplating the Vapor Product Amendment Act, which would re-classify harm-reduction products commonly known as e-cigarettes or vapor products as "other tobacco products," and tax them as though they actually contained tobacco — which they most assuredly do not.
The exorbitant 70 percent tax would essentially drive the numerous small businesses now marketing these lifesaving devices right out of business, at least in the District. They would have to shutter or move. Meanwhile, the many thousands of D.C. smokers who have finally quit via "vaping," as the use of e-cigs is known, will have few choices: purchase their e-cigs out of district or relapse to toxic, deadly cigarettes, as the price increase from the new tax would make e-cigs as expensive (or more so) as the real things.
Passing laws that re-define common words, such as "tobacco" and "smoke," is a slippery slope. Using that subterfuge to torpedo a successful and safe smoking cessation method is the opposite of responsible lawmaking and antithetical to public health. It will also wipe out many thriving, successful small businesses. That's why I refer to this misguided proposal as a lose-lose-lose for the District.
Regarding the public health aspects of vaping, the media portrays e-cigs and vapor products as "controversial." Yes, vaping can resemble smoking, which is one reason for some to hate the behavior, whatever its benefits. But studies have shown that smokers trying to quit have had as good, or better, results from vaping than from all the FDA-approved methods put together. Many of the "public health" nonprofits are deeply conflicted thanks to the multi-million dollars of Big Pharma support they receive, and are happy to spread nonsensical alarms about illusory dangers of e-cigs.
Those FDA-approved, expensive patches, gums and pills don't work: Quit rates with these hover in the 10 percent range, unacceptably low. E-cigs supply nicotine in a misty plume of water vapor and glycerin and/or propylene glycol; the nicotine in e-cigs has been shown to be far less addictive than in cigarettes, while the other components of the vapor have been thoroughly studied and are recognized as safe, although long-term studies are still pending.
But here's the most important consideration: E-cigs are meant to help addicted smokers finally escape the clutches of cigarettes. E-cigs are about 95 percent (or more) less harmful than cigarettes. We surely know the "long-term studies" of smoking: Over one-half of regular smokers will die from their habit, and many more will be chronically sickened. Among the 43 million American smokers — three-quarters of whom want to quit — almost a half-million die each year from cigarettes. That is the real problem.
Yet tax-addicted politicians and corrupt "public health" officials are targeting — not cigarettes, but e-cigarettes. How did we come to a point where the solution has become the problem?
What about "kid-friendly" flavors, which allegedly seduce our kids into nicotine addiction? Nothing of the sort is happening. The CDC's own figures show that while youth experimentation with e-cigs has increased over the past few years, the smoking rate among teens has declined to levels unseen since the statistics have been collected. And the number of kids vaping who were not previously smokers is minuscule: It appears that young people who vape frequently do so for the same reason their parents do: To escape the clutches of cigarette addiction.
On the other hand, adult vapers prefer flavored liquids three-quarters of the time; indeed, many ex-smokers who switched to vaping have reported (in surveys) that eliminating the flavors they enjoy would likely send them back to the real thing: deadly cigarettes.
Here's the bottom line: E-cigarettes have no tobacco and emit no smoke. There are many common consumer products that have "kid-friendly" flavors, including vodka, energy drinks and dishwashing cubes — and, ironically, nicotine gum! Why not ban them too? The way to deal with that supposed problem is to enact strict age restrictions, making it illegal to market or sell them to young people — not to tax them off the market. Meanwhile, the Big Tobacco companies that make and market less-effective "cigalikes" will be able to comply with the tax issue — they will certainly not go out of business, nor will they stop selling cigarettes.
How did fighting America's most important public health problem — cigarette smoking — become so politicized and controversial? If the crusade against e-cigs is successful, the winners would be Big Pharma — sellers of hugely profitable but almost useless nicotine gum, patches and cessation drugs — and Big Tobacco. They are the ones that will benefit if the e-cig market is stifled by state and federal over-regulation, official misleading alarmism and onerous "tobacco" taxation.Dr. Gilbert Ross is the executive director and Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a consumer education-public health organization. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.