Government, Health Care, and Retail

Lawmakers consider tax increase on cigarettes, vaping products

Goal is to keep any nicotine-related substances out of the hands of young people.

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Electronic cigarettes and vape pens deliver vaporized liquid containing nicotine. Vape pens are larger and have more complex parts. E-cigarettes are smaller and mimic regular cigarettes. Courtesy iStock

Some lawmakers are pushing to tax vape pens and e-cigarettes just like cigarettes in hopes of discouraging teens from using them.

Manufacturers are pushing back, saying the devices are healthier alternatives to smoking cigarettes.

Rep. Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids, recently introduced a bill to tax tobacco products. It would increase that tax on cigarettes by 7 cents per cigarette, or $1.40 per pack. And it would assess an 81 percent tax — which would be about $20 on a $25 vape pen product — on electronic cigarettes and vape pens.

Both devices deliver vaporized liquid containing nicotine. Vape pens are larger and have more complex parts. E-cigarettes are smaller and mimic regular cigarettes.

“Rep. Hood wants to make vape pens less accessible to people under the age of 18 and raising the price might be the way to do it,” said Curtis Audette, Hood’s legislative director.

The proposal is intended to steer younger people away from these specific products.

“The specific intention of this bill is targeting electronic cigarettes and vape pens because currently they aren’t taxed like tobacco products,” Audette said. “They aren’t considered tobacco products by Michigan law, unlike other states.”

Sellers of the devices are fighting the tax.

“I think the bill is a terrible idea,” said Bill Kosinski, CEO of Tattoo Vape, which sells e-cigarettes and accessories in Michigan. “The state was on the right path to be smoke-free, but the tax increase will have 18 and over e-cigarette and vape users going back to regular cigarettes because they’re (vapes) so expensive.”

Kosinski said vapes and e-cigarettes saved his life from cigarettes.

“Vapes and e-cigarettes help you quit smoking by giving a similar feel to smoking regular cigarettes,” Kosinski said.

They contain a few ingredients: propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine (which also is found in toothpaste and lotions), FDA-approved flavoring and nicotine, which has a similar effect on people as caffeine so it’s really not harmful, he said.

The harmful part of cigarettes isn’t the nicotine but the 7,000 other chemicals that cause cancer, Kosinski said. There is no tobacco in vapes and e-cigarettes.

According to Yale researchers, the base of the liquid in vapes is either marijuana or nicotine. An article by Kathleen Raven on the Yale Medicine website states nicotine is a highly addictive substance and that vape pens have not been proven to help in quitting cigarettes.

The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. LaTanya Garrett, D-Detroit.

“We need money wherever we can get it,” Garrett said.

“Ten percent of the funds from those taxes will go to Healthy Michigan and 90 percent will go to the state’s general fund,” she said.

Healthy Michigan is a program that offers health care plans under the Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’re still allowing people to smoke if they want to — I’m a smoker,” Garrett said. “And I hope people are smarter and will vote to help us stop these e-cigarettes from targeting our kids.”

The bill is pending before the House Committee for Regulatory Reform.

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