Virginia Considers Changes To Tobacco Taxes To ‘Reflect Advances In Science’

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A state lawmaker in Virginia is calling on officials to revisit tobacco taxes and institute reforms that differentiate between the risks of combustible cigarettes and alternative products.

Republican state Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is proposing an amendment that would instruct a subcommittee to modernize the state’s tobacco tax code“to reflect advances in science and technology in the area of tobacco harm reduction.” The proposal is backed by Altria, the domestic sellers of the Marlboro cigarette brand among others, who are preparing for the introduction of heat-not-burn technology into the U.S. in partnership with Philip Morris International, reports The Roanoke Times.

Under the amendment, the Joint Subcommittee to Evaluate Tax Preferences would review existing scientific research on vapor products and heat-not-burn devices like PMI’s IQOS, including recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The subcommittee would then set different taxes for various smoking alternatives to reflect their relative safety compared to combustible cigarettes.

Hanger wants to educate the public on the differing safety profiles of the products to incentivize smokers to switch to healthier alternatives that improve their future health outcomes.

Dr. Brad Rodu, a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and associate fellow with the R Street Institute, recently released a tax proposal that similarly advocates differential taxes based on differential product risk in Kentucky. The tax proposal has the backing of 16 economists and tobacco policy experts from across the U.S.

“Instead of just pushing them to quit, when many of them are unable or unwilling to quit tobacco entirely, our proposal instead encourages them and incentivizes them to switch to vastly safer products,” Rodu told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The ideal is that nobody ever uses tobacco, but the ideal isn’t going to be achievable in our lifetimes, so what we’re doing is trying to help smokers who desperately need to quit now.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee will hold a meeting Jan. 24 to discuss the future of PMI’s IQOS device in America, which would be sold domestically though a partnership with Altria if approved. The focus will be PMI’s Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) application, submitted to the FDA in Dec. 2016 and accepted for review in May, which will determine if the IQOS can be marketed as a safer alternative to smoking.

The meeting will serve to inform FDA officials currently reviewing the IQOS before a decision is made regarding approval of the MRTP application. The FDA is also reviewing PMI’s product application for IQOS, which will determine if the product can be sold in the U.S.

The Committee on Toxicity, an independent scientific committee that advises health services in the U.K., released research in December on the health profile of heat-not-burn devices compared to cigarettes. The study concluded that the devices eliminate up to 90 percent of the harmful chemicals and carcinogens released by cigarettes by cutting out the combustion process.

The researchers urge caution, saying the devices still pose a risk to the user’s health, but acknowledge the potential of the devices as harm reduction tools for smokers.

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