Tax Vaping And Tobacco Products To Curb Youth Smoking, Committee Told
By Brynna Sentel
INDIANAPOLIS—Health officials and business owners told a legislative committee the only way to curb Indiana’s increase in smokeless tobacco usage is to tax and regulate vaping products like Juul.
With a smoking rate that’s 50 percent higher than the U.S. average and 327 percent increase in the number of youth using e-cigarettes, the state needs a 24 percent tax on vaping products, said Kevin Brinegar, president, and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Brinegar testified Tuesday before the Interim Study Committee on Fiscal Policy, which heard more than two hours of testimony about vaping and tobacco use. He cited studies showing that Indiana has the third-highest rate of e-cigarette usage in the nation and ranks as 44th worst in nicotine use among all 50 states.
Dr. Lisa Hatcher of Columbia City described how a few weeks ago she had an eighth-grader in her office who was trying out for the football team.
“I asked him about smoking and he said no and I asked him about vaping and he said no,” she said. “And I said ok how about juuling? Well, yes. I said how many pods do you juul a day? One sometimes two.
“Ladies and gentlemen, he is smoking more than one to two packs of cigarettes a day in terms of nicotine content. That is damaging his blood pressure. That is damaging his blood vessels. That is putting him at risk for long-term tobacco use.”
Hatcher said she is advocating for high taxes on e-cigarettes and other smokeless tobacco products because of her encounter with students like that eighth-grader. She noted that other states have imposed substantial taxes on tobacco and related products and as a result, the usage rate has dropped.
“We need to get on that bandwagon and we need to urgently,” she added.
Business owners, however, fear that high taxation will instead create a black market for the products, taking away their business and the ability to tax consumers who buy the products.
Mason Odle, a business owner and the vice president of the Indiana Smoke-Free Alliance, opposes a tax on vape products. But he said his group, a vaping industry trade association, believe a nicotine cap should be in place to deter the youth from using products like Juul to get a “quick buzz” caused by the high levels of nicotine.
When asked if Juul should be eliminated altogether, Odle, owner of two vape shops, said that it would have a positive impact on the industry.
“No single policy measure is going to adequately address this epidemic,” Nick Torres, from Tobacco Free Indiana, told members of the study committee.
He advocated for taxing e-cigarettes in the same way all other tobacco products are taxed, as well as taxing the actual devices as if it were a tobacco product. Tobacco products have a 24 percent tax.
Torres hopes to deter youth from using these products with a higher tax. But some lawmakers don’t think that is enough.
“I’m very interested in using the tax system to send signals to people. In this case, I want people to understand that vaping is bad and some types of vaping are worse.” Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said.
The committee is expected to develop recommendations for legislation that would be considered in the 2020 session of the General Assembly.
FOOTNOTE: Brynna Sentel is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.