The cost of electronic cigarettes in Vermont will nearly double if House lawmakers get their way, and legislators say the plan will raise needed revenue and curb health care costs.
House lawmakers gave preliminary approval Wednesday afternoon to a bill that would hit e-cigarettes and related paraphernalia with a 92 percent excise tax. The plan would raise about an estimated $500,000 next year.
More importantly, supporters say, it would reduce consumption of an addictive product whose long-term impacts on health are still largely unknown. Jericho Rep. George Till, a medical doctor who sponsored the legislation, says flavored e-cigarette products pose a particular threat to young people.
“This is really about protecting the teenagers of Vermont from predatory companies and dangerous products, protecting them from making decisions that they will regret for the rest of their lives,” Till said during a floor debate Wednesday.
Opponents of the bill say many of their constituents credit e-cigarettes with helping them quit regular cigarettes. Fair Haven Rep. Bob Helm says the products offer a safer alternative to tobacco.
“So this product isn’t the boogeyman that it’s been made out to be,” Helm said. “This product is doing what we as legislators have actually asked people to do: quit smoking.”
Helm wasn’t the only legislator to question the link between e-cigarettes and poorer health outcomes for the residents who use them.
“All I heard in this debate was how bad tobacco is for our health, yet we have a bill before us that taxes tobacco substitutes, not tobacco,” said Northfield Rep. Anne Donahue. “It’s purely a tax bill.”
Other lawmakers say the plan will simply drive sales of the products over state lines and onto the Internet, and harm the local economy in the process.
Till says there’s no evidence that e-cigarettes are an effective smoking cessation aid. He cited medical studies that suggest smokers are less likely to kick the habit when they use e-cigarettes.
Lawmakers say they’d use the new revenue from e-cigarette sales to decrease a surcharge on employers who don’t provide workers with company-sponsored health insurance plans.