News Sentinel Editorial: Vaping tax merits support

The tax the House has proposed for vaping liquids is appropriate and should be approved by the Senate.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to vote this week on House Bill 1444, which would tax nicotine-containing liquids used in electronic cigarettes at the rate of 4 cents per milliliter. The House approved the bill on a 53-40 vote in February. The original bill proposed 8 cents per milliliter, but was slashed in half before being approved. The tax is expected to generate between $2 million and $4 million per year for the state.

Rep. Tim Brown, a Crawfordsville Republican and a physician, is the author of the bill. He hopes the tax will discourage vaping, particularly among young people. Brown is concerned the increased use of e-cigarettes among young people will lead many down a path to cigarette smoking.

That concern is validated by an annual survey of teenagers by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In December, NIDA reported that its annual Monitoring the Future survey showed a dramatic one-year increase in teens’ use of vaping devices, with 37.3 percent of 12th graders reporting “any vaping” in the past 12 months, compared to just 27.8 percent in 2017. Previous NIDA studies showed that 30.7 percent of teens who used e-cigarettes began smoking within six months, compared with just 8 percent of teens who did not use e-cigarettes.

But while the concern about e-cigarettes being a gateway to traditional cigarettes is real, it also should be noted that vaping has proven to be an effective smoking cessation tool. And a number of studies have shown that e-cigarette introduce far fewer harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes. Even the anti-tobacco group “The Truth Initiative” agrees with that assessment.

The problem is that e-cigarettes, introduced in 2007, are still relatively new and there isn’t clear information on tax policy around the products.

Just seven states — California, Minnesota, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, West Virginia and Pennsylvania — as well as the District of Columbia have taxes in place on e-cigarettes. All of the taxes in place in those states are higher than the one proposed in Indiana, though as many as 20 states are considering e-cigarette tax proposals this year.

Sentiment on House Bill 1444 ran the gamut during a hearing on the bill before the Senate Appropriations Committee last week. Some — Tobacco Free Indiana and the Indiana Hospital Association — argued 4 cents per milliliter was far too low to be effective.

Others, particularly the Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association and the Indiana Smoke-Free Alliance (made up primarily of e-cigarette retailers), oppose the bill as written, arguing that it is unfair to the e-cigarette industry and retailers.

According to America’s Health Rankings produced by the United Health Foundation, 21.8 percent of Indiana’s adults are smokers. That compares to 17.1 percent of adults nationally and ranks Indiana 44th among the 50 states. That’s nothing to be proud of.

Indiana needs to strike a balance between investing in education campaigns aimed at teens about the potential harmful impacts of e-cigarettes and keeping e-cigarettes affordable to smokers looking to use them as a stepping stone to quitting traditional cigarettes.

House Bill 1444 is an appropriate step in that direction and should be approved.