Sense behind e-cig tax solid as smoke

Sean C. Morgan, Staff Writer

Oregon Democrats in our legislature last Monday were looking for a tax increase of 10 cents per pack of cigarettes on Monday.

Gov. Kitzhaber, when he was our state’s chief executive the first time back in 1996, threw his weight behind a 30-cent tax on cigarette packs to help pay for the Oregon Health Plan.

When he and other started pushing this particular sin tax, they argued that smokers burdened the healthcare system. They also argued that the tax would encourage smokers to quit.

Turns out they were wrong. Fatties and smokers cost less. They die sooner. In a Dutch study in 2008, smokers lived about 77 years. Obese people lived about 80 years, and healthy nonsmokers lived about 84 years.

The cost to care for obese people from age 20 until they passed on was $371,000. The cost for smokers was about $326,000. The cost for the thin healthy group was $417,000.

It doesn’t matter though.

Nobody really seems to bring that “benefit” up any more. Taxing the snot out of smokers is just tradition now. So much so that they can’t pass up the chance to go after folks who have quit smoking.

The state legislature is starting to look at a tax on e-cigarettes. No smoke emanates from an e-cigarette. All that comes out of it is a propylene glycol fog, the same stuff used in concert fog machines and hundreds of other applications, including food and medicine.

From our own neck of the woods, Phil Barnart, who represents Linn County residents who live southwest of the city limits, said the state should look at taxing e-cigarettes because they contain nicotine, an addictive substance, according to an Associated Press report.

To be consistent, Oregon Democrats should propose taxing caffeine and sugar too. But really, they should be cautious about taxing cigarette hardware because some vapors (those are folks who use e-cigarettes or personal vaporizers) use a solution with no nicotine at all.

Many of us smokers who have escaped our addiction to tobacco smoke used this product to do it.

We’ve also escaped the unfair taxes Oregon Democrats and some Republicans have inflicted upon us simply because our activity was unpopular with them. It’s probably too much for these politicians to handle, so their former attorney general and champion on e-cigarettes, John Kroger, came out as an aggressive opponent and nanny-stater and even managed to effectively ban at least one brand from the state.

It makes some of us believe Oregon Democrats really want us to keep smoking and sending cash to the state coffers, despite their earnest pleas that they are only concerned about our health. If they really were concerned about smokers’ health, they’d promote the e-cigarette. It’s an amazing invention.

Barnhart’s argument rests on a assumption that an addictive quality is sufficient justification to tax something, perhaps as punitive measure or perhaps to somehow save the addicts from themselves, much like the 1990s argument that a tax would encourage smokers to quit.

But the justification doesn’t follow from the observation that something is addictive. It’s a feeble argument. That’s why anti-smokers ignorantly claimed that smokers were a burden to the healthcare system in the 1990s.

Barnhart and other anti-smokers have provided no good justification for taxing e-cigarettes any differently than any other item for sale in Oregon.

I propose that the state should tax Rep. Barnhart’s left shoe. That’s how much sense it makes to single out e-cigarettes.