Editorial: Lawmakers must tax e-cigarettes to discourage youth vaping

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Vaping—once considered largely a way for smokers to ease off cigarettes—has become a vice of choice among teens.

One in five Hoosier high school students is vaping, according to a 2017 survey. And one in 20 middle school students acknowledged using e-cigarettes or another vaping product that same year.

Even in a state where smoking rates have long been too high (22% among adults in Indiana compared with 15% nationwide), the statistics about youth vaping are alarming.

We understand the contention that vaping may not be as dangerous as smoking—although the health effects aren’t fully known and the evidence appears to be getting cloudier. But that argument is only persuasive when smokers are trading in their cigarettes for vaping pens and e-cigarettes.

Unfortunately, studies show that’s not the trend among youth. Teens today are getting addicted to nicotine through vaping—without ever having tried a cigarette. And while that may be better than teens becoming addicted to smoking, it’s even better if they never start at all.

So we are thrilled that Gov. Eric Holcomb has announced a $2.1 million social media campaign that’s aimed at urging kids to quit smoking and vaping—and to never start. The effort will even encourage teens to text DitchJuul to 88709 to get more information, a reference to the Juul e-cigarette that is so popular among kids and adults.

But we were disappointed that Holcomb did not announce a second campaign—one aimed at persuading lawmakers to raise Indiana’s cigarette tax and impose similar taxes on vaping products.

As reporter Lindsey Erdody details in a story on page 3A, lawmakers debated but failed to pass legislation earlier this year that would have imposed taxes on the liquids used in e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. The Republican majority instead sent the issue to the Interim Committee on Fiscal Policy for study in advance of the 2020 session. The committee has listed the issue on the agenda for an Oct. 15 meeting.

Holcomb told IBJ he supports imposing a tax on vaping products. He said he wants “parity” between traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

But the reason to impose a tax on vaping products is not to create fairness in the marketplace. It’s about the health of Hoosiers—and young Hoosiers in particular.

It’s the same reason IBJ has repeatedly advocated a huge increase in the state’s tax on cigarettes. Studies show that higher prices lead to reduced consumption of tobacco products—especially among teens.

It’s too soon to know whether the same applies to vaping products (16 states have imposed or are set to impose taxes on vaping products so far and most only recently), but we’re willing to bet that higher prices will deter vaping among youth like they deter smoking among youth.

So why wait? It’s time for lawmakers to take action to curb youth vaping—and raise a little money for that effort along the way.

Holcomb and legislative leaders already have indicated that the issue could be pushed off until 2021, the next time lawmakers consider a budget and the time when tax questions are generally considered.

But that would be irresponsible. We urge Holcomb and lawmakers to act now to raise taxes on cigarettes and impose taxes on vaping products. Indiana’s health is at stake.•


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