Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Why is the Governor of Rhode Island Trying to Help Protect Big Tobacco from Competition?

In a bizarre turn of events, the governor of Rhode Island - who paints himself as anti-tobacco - is asking the legislature to help protect Big Tobacco from competition. Governor Lincoln Chafee, in his budget bill (House Bill 7133), proposes a whopping 80% tax on electronic cigarettes.

The Rest of the Story

Since electronic cigarettes represent a huge threat to cigarette sales - as many smokers are switching to electronic cigarettes completely or reducing their cigarette consumption substantially and substituting vaping - this massive tax on electronic cigarettes would serve to protect cigarettes from competition, thus protecting Big Tobacco profits at the expense of the protection of the public's health.

There is strong evidence that electronic cigarettes are much safer than tobacco cigarettes. These products contain no tobacco and do not involve combustion. Multiple studies have confirmed that there are only a few chemicals present beyond the nicotine, and so far, only trace or low levels of potentially concerning constituents have been detected - levels which are much lower than in real cigarettes. Users of these products generally report an immediate and dramatic reduction in respiratory symptoms. Moreover, there is strong evidence that electronic cigarettes can be effective in smoking cessation and that they may actually be more effective than traditional nicotine replacement products such as nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges. Even when not effective in promoting complete smoking cessation, these products generally help smokers cut down substantially on the amount they smoke, thus sharply curtailing tobacco cigarette sales.

So why would Governor Chafee want to place a heavy tax on electronic cigarettes, and thus shift sales away from the fake cigarettes and toward the real ones?

This move will be destructive to the public's health. It will literally cause disease and death by increasing cigarette consumption. The proposed tax is high enough that it will deter many smokers from quitting by using electronic cigarettes. It may even result in some vapers returning to cigarette smoking because the economic advantage is no longer present.

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed electronic cigarette tax tomorrow at 4:00 pm. Hopefully, the Committee members will vote on the side of protecting the public's health rather than protecting cigarette profits.

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