Arkansas has made progress at reducing smoking rates the last decade, but that could be halted if proposed legislation passes.
Democratic state representative Charles Blake last week announced that he was sponsoring the E-Cigarettes Tax Act, a bill that would impose a 7.5 percent tax per fluid milliliter of nicotine vapor and that he claims would bring in $1.5 million in taxes annually.
Tobacco companies clinging to their shrinking customer bases would certainly appreciate having a law on the books that imposes a harsh tax on their stiffest competition, especially since people often use e-cigarettes to help them quit tobacco.
The last thing Arkansas needs is to make it harder for people to stop smoking. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state has some of the highest tobacco use rates in the country:
Tobacco is especially prevalent among Arkansas high schoolers:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe previously tried to curb tobacco use by cracking down on secondhand smoke. In July 2011, he signed a law prohibiting smoking in a car with children under the age of 14, raising the previous limit from age 6. Only six other states (California, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, and Utah) have similar laws.
Rep. Blake's proposed vaping tax, though, would undermine those anti-tobacco efforts. Vaping dispensaries too are understandably upset. Local vendor Jonathan Ross, who switched to vaping after 20 years of smoking so that he could spend more time with his kids, voiced his criticism in an interview with local news station KAIT:
"There's no reason why we should be taxed on this because it is not a tobacco product," Ross said. "That's what they are setting it as, as a tobacco product. We are not a tobacco product, we are a nicotine product but not a tobacco product. So we get into the simple fact of being taxed for something they don't know about and I don't understand why."
"We're not in it to make the money, we are in it to get people a safer alternative to cigarettes to keep them around a couple more extra years you know, to play with their families," Ross said. "It's a good business but it's a business to help people and they are pricing us out of being able to help people."
Ironically, one of the beneficiaries of the proposed vaping tax would be the Arkansas Division for Aging and Adult Services, which is set to receive a quarter of the revenues raised. That agency's efforts to help citizens live healthy lives as they age will probably be more effective if the state refrains from passing taxes that discourage a healthier alternative to smoking.