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Vermont Legislature
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Watts: Vape Tax

Christa Guzman
The Vermont Cynic
A student takes an e-cigarette break while studying in her room at the University of Vermont.

Vaping as it’s called - the act of sucking in flavored water vapor laced with nicotine - has become quite the rage among young people. As I walk across campus, little puffs linger in the air as students’ draw at their e-cigarette devices.

Nicotine is a pleasurable drug, causing adrenaline to spike and the heart to beat faster. The world feels sharper, the blurred edges filled in. I know this because before I managed to quit, I was a smoker for many years, hooked by the age of 15, breathing in the deadly carcinogens that make up a cigarette.

We don’t yet know all the harm vaping may be causing, like the effects of heating the chemicals contained in the devices to mask the taste of nicotine with flavors like Crème, mango and cucumber. But we do know that nicotine is highly addictive. And the daily dose from e-cigarettes can equal the nicotine equivalent of a pack of cigarettes.

Despite statements made by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb last November, many aren’t convinced that e-cigarettes help tobacco smokers quit. So we may simply be addicting a new generation of kids. Twelve percent of Vermont kids currently in grades nine through twelve use e-cigarettes and more than one-third have used them at least once.

Luckily, we know that when it comes to cigarettes, high taxes and other policies to make tobacco less affordable and less accessible have greatly reduced tobacco use. These efforts have reduced adult smoking in Vermont by half and cut teen smoking by two thirds.

Similar measures should do the same with e-cigarettes – and Vermont is now poised to tax e-cigarettes - for the first time - at rates roughly equal to those applied to tobacco.

Today state and federal taxes on a pack of cigarettes in Vermont totals about four dollars – and the pack itself can cost ten dollars. Yet, a daily dose of e-cigarettes is half that.

So if the high cost of cigarettes acts as a deterrent on young people, legislators should do the same with vaping devices. If we want to avoid addicting a new generation of teens on nicotine, taxes are a logical first step.

Richard Watts teaches communications and public policy in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Vermont and directs the Center for Research on Vermont. He is also the co-founder of a blog on sustainable transportation.
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