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Fights Over Tobacco Tax Hikes Heat Up Across US

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Initiatives seeking a large hike in the tobacco tax and a new tax on electronic cigarettes are sparking heated ballot fights in California and North Dakota.

Proposition 56 in California would raise the tax on tobacco sales from 87 cents to $2.87. The ballot would also allow the state government to begin taxing e-cigarette sales for the first time, which opponents argue harms an industry helping smokers quit, reports The Bismark Tribune. Activists in both states say a steep hike in tobacco taxes is needed to curb the smoking rate and that a tax on electronic cigarettes will help dissuade children from trying the device.

“They claim the tobacco tax is a way to stop people from smoking, but then they hit vaping with a huge tax,” Steve Greenhut, Western Region director for the R Street Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “If their thinking is the same, people are going to stop vaping. Vaping is one of the main ways people quite smoking, so it’s hugely counterproductive from a policy standpoint.”

Measure 4 in North Dakota would increase the current tobacco tax from 44 cents to $2.20 and add a new tax on electronic cigarettes, while other tobacco products would experience a roughly 50 percent tax increase on sales in the state. The war between pro-tobacco groups and anti-smoking activists is escalating as the November election draws near.

For example, activists joined together on Oct.11 to dump 5,600 toe tags — used for dead bodies in a morgue — from a body bag in front of the Sacramento lobbying offices of Altria, the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris USA. The tags represent the number of children in California who become smokers and later die from associated health issues.

Meanwhile, pro-tobacco organizers recently launched an advertisement campaign that alleges the tobacco tax hike in California will help line the pockets of healthcare executives, arguing Proposition 56 exempts these groups from audit rules that would oversee revenue spent on low-income patient care, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Proponents of tax hikes argue it’s necessary to dissuade people from smoking cigarettes, but the smoking rate in California is 12 percent, the second lowest rate in the country. Additionally, the 400 percent tobacco tax increase proposed in North Dakota would be the state’s largest single tax increase in history.

Anti-smoking advocates are also sounding the alarm on the supposed harms of e-cigarettes, arguing they are creating nicotine addicts out of non-smokers.

“We’re facing a particularly alarming new public threat with the rising popularity of electronic cigarettes, especially among our youth,” Dr. Ted Mazer, president of the California Medical Association, told Science World Report.

Even without taxes on e-cigarettes in the majority of states, the industry could suffer a devastating blow. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a rule in May forcing all vape products to be regulated the same way as cigarettes and many local vape vendors are anticipating closure within the next two years.

“What that means is, unless something changes with those regulations that are in affect now, on Aug. 8, 2018 this shop and 14,000 other shops across the U.S. will be closed because of the regulatory process that they have set up,” Frank Blankenship, co-owner of Lucky Ruckus Vape Shop, told KFDA. “Nobody is advocating for zero regulation. What we want is reasonable regulation and those regulations should be regulations that don’t prevent adults from accessing vaping products.”

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