Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Washington Governor and Legislature Seeking to Protect Cigarette Profits; Legislation Would Decimate Public Health by Increasing Cigarette Consumption

Under the guise of acting to "protect the children," the Washington State Governor and legislature are poised to protect cigarette profits at the expense of the public's health.

A new bill, introduced last week in the House, would impose the strictest regulations on e-cigarettes of any state in the country. In addition to banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, requiring labeling changes, and requiring child-proof packaging of e-liquids (which are reasonable), the bill would also: (1) ban flavorings - other than tobacco and menthol; (2) ban online e-cigarette sales; and (3) impose a 95% tax on e-cigarettes and all e-cigarette accessories (e.g., batteries); and (4) require the name and address of every purchaser of e-cigarettes to be recorded and saved for five years.

The Rest of the Story

This is one of the worst examples of window dressing that I've ever seen in tobacco control. The legislation makes it look like these politicians are deeply concerned about the health of Washington's children, but in reality, it shows a lack of courage to actually take on Big Tobacco and confront the real problem causing the prospects for early death and chronic disease among children in Washington state.

If the Washington governor and legislature were truly concerned about the health of the state's children, they would immediately impose a 95% tax on real cigarettes, require real cigarette purchasers' names and addresses to be recorded and saved for five years, and establish a cigarette tax revenue-funded comprehensive statewide tobacco prevention program accompanied by an aggressive anti-smoking media campaign.

Instead, these politicians are going after an easy target - the vaping industry - so that they can make it appear that they really care about children's health.

But I call baloney on them.

This legislation is a dream come true for cigarette companies, cigarette sales, and cigarette profits in the state of Washington. The fake cigarettes are being treated far more harshly than the real ones, which are the ones actually killing people in Washington and actually threatening the lives and health of Washington adolescents.

Why should the name of every e-cigarette purchaser need to be recorded, while anyone can just walk up to a counter at the local convenience store and purchase a pack of cigarettes without giving out their name or address?

Why should the tax on e-cigarettes be massively raised, while the tax on real cigarettes remain unchanged?

Let's be very clear. This bill is going to do very little good, but a lot of harm.

First of all, while e-cigarette use among youth is definitely concerning, there is no evidence that it is actually causing any significant harm. The bulk of the current evidence suggests that electronic cigarettes are deterring youth away from smoking real cigarettes, which in the long run may actually have a positive effect on their health. Moreover, there is no evidence that youth, even those who are "current" e-cigarette users, use them any more than occasionally. To be sure, some of the measures in the proposed legislation, such as its restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and its requirements for child-proof packaging make sense. However, the rest of the legislation is dramatic overkill which is going to all but destroy the e-cigarette industry in Washington.

With the banning of flavors, most vape shops will be forced to go out of business. With the banning of internet sales, all vaping businesses without brick-and-mortar sales will be forced out of business. Not only will this legislation have a devastating financial impact on small businesses, but it will also significantly harm the public's health. 

Why? Because it will undoubtedly make it more difficult and less enticing for smokers to try to quit smoking. E-cigarettes have become one of the primary methods by which many smokers try to quit. By greatly limiting the availability of these products, greatly increasing their price, and taking away all the interesting flavors, the incentive for smokers to quit via electronic cigarettes will be all but completely destroyed. As a result, smoking in Washington will increase, as will the diseases and deaths that are associated with cigarette consumption. Many vapers will simply return to smoking once their favored products are taken off the market. The effects on the public's health will be stark and immediate.

The rest of the story is that Washington politicians pushing this legislation are essentially calling for a ban on all existing electronic cigarettes. Why? Because every electronic cigarette contains flavors. In fact, the presence of flavors is the only distinguishing characteristic of different brands of e-liquids or cartridges.

The ingredients of virtually every electronic cigarette liquid on the market are:

1. Nicotine
2. Propylene glycol and/or glycerin
3. Flavors

That's it! That's basically all there is.

For example, let's take a look at the ingredient list for some of the major e-cigarette brands on the market:

VUSE: nicotine, PG, VG, water, flavorings
Blu: nicotine, PG, VG, water, citric acid, flavorings
Mark Ten: nicotine, PG, VG, flavorings
V2: nicotine, PG, flavorings
LOGIC: nicotine, PG, water, flavorings
NJOY: nicotine, PG, VG, flavorings

Virtually every electronic cigarette consists of nicotine, PG and/or VG, and flavorings, plus or minus a little water and perhaps citric acid. It is the flavor that makes the brand. In most cases, even the "tobacco"-flavored electronic cigarettes contain flavorings.

It's easy to see that a ban on flavors is essentially a ban on electronic cigarettes. It would ban virtually every electronic cigarette currently on the market. Moreover, it would mean that there could only be one type of electronic cigarette liquid, which would have to contain just nicotine and propylene glycol and/or glycerine, and there would be no way for different liquids to distinguish themselves. The product would completely lose its appeal to smokers and the cigarette market would be protected forever. Menthol, mint, and wintergreen would be the only way to distinguish between e-cigarette brands. Thus, there would really be only four possible e-cigarette "brands" available. This would completely undermine the market and remove any competitive advantage over tobacco cigarettes.

Such a regulatory action would remove the ability of companies to market their products and would eliminate the taste and appeal of the product, handing the entire cigarette category over to Big Tobacco.

In my opinion, a ban on flavors in electronic cigarettes would completely destroy the electronic cigarette market. If the Washington legislature is going to ban the flavors in e-cigarettes, then it might as well just ban the product entirely.

Why would these public officials support an action that will end the great electronic cigarette experiment and permanently hand the entire cigarette market over to Big Tobacco?

If any of my readers can find out, please let me know because it is baffling to understand why public officials would want to protect cigarettes from the most serious competition they have ever faced. If this flavoring ban is enacted, the Washington legislature will have the rare role of being the hero of the cigarette promotion movement.

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