California Doc Decries E-Cig Tax As Boon To Wealthy Special Interests

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Fights over tobacco tax hikes are heating up on the eve of election day, but the proposed tax on electronic-cigarettes is drawing the most ire.

First time taxes on e-cigarettes could hit residents in California and North Dakota if voters pass ballots on election day that hike tobacco taxes in the states. Proposition 56 aims to raise the tobacco tax in California from 87 cents to $2.87 and bring e-cigarettes under the umbrella. Measure 4 in North Dakota spikes the tobacco tax 400 percent, the largest single tax increase in the state’s history. The war between pro-tobacco groups and anti-smoking activists is escalating on the eve of the election, reports The New York Times.

Pro-tobacco organizers are running advertisement campaigns that allege the tobacco tax hike in California will help line the pockets of healthcare executives. They note Proposition 56 exempts healthcare groups from audit rules that would oversee revenue spent on low-income patient care. One California doctor called it a deal for the “wealthy special interests.”

“I do everything in my power to stop people from smoking, but that’s not what Prop 56 is really about,” Dr. Arnold Zeiderman, an obstetrician, says in an anti-tobacco tax advertisement.

E-cigarette distributors in California say the tax will lift the price of one standard 30 milliliter bottle of liquid nicotine from roughly $20 to $30. Critics fear the 67 percent tax rate on vaping could jeopardize small businesses throughout the state. Small vendors stand to lose more than big tobacco companies in this fight, despite being largely overlooked.

Damage from e-cigarette taxes are already being felt by vendors in Pennsylvania, which imposed a 40 percent wholesale tax on e-cigarettes Oct. 1.

“If I ate all 40 percent, I’d be closed by the end of the year,” Raffi Farraj, owner of Vegas Vapes near Philadelphia, told The New York Times. “If I charged 40 percent, I’d be closed by the end of the year.”

Critics of the initiatives and many health experts argue taxes on e-cigarettes undermine their utility in helping smokers quit. Negative attention on vaping as dangerous and harmful like cigarettes is contributing to declining sales in recent years.

Proponents of the tobacco tax hikes overall 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.

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