Pennsylvania’s hefty 40 percent tax on wholesale e-liquid is literally killing vape shops in the state. Two vape shops in Pike County have recently shut their doors because of the tax, and statewide 93 out of 311 vape shops have closed since the tax went into effect. Some shops have only managed to stay in business by becoming more general stores that sell other products in additions to e-cigarettes and vaping supplies.
Taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products have also risen, with tobacco users being targeted to make up the state’s $2 billion deficit. Opponents of the tobacco taxes say that they unfairly target the poorest citizens, as they make up the majority of smoking adults. But those who support tobacco taxes say they improve the health of these same people, and everyone else, by encouraging smokers to quit.
The problem in this thinking is that taxation forces smokers to consider quitting cold turkey if pharmaceutical smoking cessation aids don’t work. Smokers who can’t afford the rising cost of cigarettes should be provided with a method of quitting that works without causing withdrawal symptoms or undue suffering.
For many smokers, that method has turned out to be e-cigarettes. But the trend in anti-smoking campaigning is to ignore the fact that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking and assume they present just as great a danger. Even now that both teen smoking and teen vaping rates are on the decline, anti-smoking groups continue to insist that vaping and smoking are the same thing and present a particular danger to youth.
The Pennsylvania wholesale vape tax does have many opponents. Several state lawmakers have backed legislation to repeal the 40 percent tax and replace it with a tax of 5 cents per milliliter of e-liquid. A previous bill with the same goal was tabled last October, but both it and the new bill contain language stating that vaping has been proven to reduce the harm from smoking, as well as stating that small businesses are in danger of having to close because of the current tax. The new bill’s memo goes into more detail, and says that the current tax would be unlikely to help the budget deficit anyway. It also specifically mentions the report from the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Surgeons that declares vaping to be 95 percent less harmful than smoking.
It is estimated that if the wholesale tax were to stand and more vape shops were forced to close, Pennsylvania’s economy would not suffer much. But when there are no or few local vape shops, customers tend to shop online at out of state retailers, or those near the border may cross over to the next state to buy vaping supplies. Many smokers might also choose e-cigarettes that are available in big box stores, which usually are limited to name brands that almost always contain nicotine in relatively high amounts. Vape shops offer more variety, more nicotine choices including zero nicotine liquid, and education from owners who are usually quite knowledgeable about their products.
The taxes on tobacco products are going to go even higher in Pennsylvania under Governor Tom Wolf’s budget. One thing that could change that for vaping products is a federal bill that, if passed, would remove e-cigarettes from realm of “tobacco products” by definition. That would put vaping products into a unique category, and the passage of this legislation could signal a change in attitude about vaping and how it can save lives.