News Story

Bill Aims At Teen Vaping, Hits Adult Smokers

$1.50-per-pack cigarette tax hike would bring in more for general fund and medical welfare

A group of Michigan House Democrats has signed on to a bill that would increase the current $2.00-a-pack state cigarette tax by $1.50. The tax of $3.50 would give Michigan the nation’s fifth-highest cigarette tax.

Rep. Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids, is the lead sponsor of House Bill 4188, which would also increase the tax on cigars and other forms of tobacco from the current 32 percent of the wholesale price to 81 percent. It also would extend this levy to e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine-delivery systems, such as vaporizers and e-cigarettes.

Hood said in a statement published on the House Democratic Caucus website that the increased cigarette tax revenue would help support spending on public schools and Medicaid. She also said that expanding the tax to alternative nicotine-delivery systems was prompted by concerns that minors were using them.

“E-cigarettes are quickly becoming a growing public health concern in our communities due to their marketing toward young people,” Hood said in the statement.

She added: “This bill is one step toward holding the e-cigarette industry accountable to the same standards as existing tobacco companies, while also providing much-needed resources to strengthen our schools and support a healthy Michigan.”

The bill was referred to the House Regulatory Reform Committee on Feb. 14.

Kenneth E. Warner, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said vaping is a complicated issue.

Warner said he doesn’t approve of the proposed tax. He said his research and the available information state that the “benefits of vaping in terms of increasing adult smoking cessation, substantially outweigh the risks to kids of becoming addicted to nicotine and (for a very few of them) progressing on to smoking.”

“I believe that we want to encourage adults who are not otherwise able to quit smoking — which is the real killer — to switch to e-cigarettes, which are clearly substantially less dangerous (which is not to say that they are completely free of health risks),” Warner said in an email.

Warner said he’d like to see “differential taxation” on the two types of products.

“I can see an argument for a tax — namely to discourage use by kids (who are more price-sensitive than adults) — but, again, the tax [on e-cigarettes] should be sufficiently lower than a tax on cigarettes to encourage adults to consider e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking,” Warner said. “If Lansing is truly interested in reducing the damage wrought by nicotine products — for both adults and kids — they should raise the tax on cigarettes substantially. (We haven’t had a cigarette tax increase for many years. At one point we were among the highest in the nation. Now we’re just average.)”

According to survey results released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes within the past 30 days, up by 1.5 million from 2017. Among high school students, the number of frequent users — defined as use on 20 or more of the past 30 days — increased from 20 percent to 27.7 percent.

Some question whether these figures may mislead the public and policymakers because they say nothing about the use of traditional tobacco cigarettes by high school students. These cigarettes are generally considered more harmful than e-cigarettes, and their use by young people has reportedly fallen to historic lows, possibly because of the less-harmful electronic alternatives.

At least four other bills have been introduced in 2019 to prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to anyone below the age of 21.

Beyond the issue of e-cigarette use by young people, there are concerns that the very large tax increase on regular cigarettes could have serious, unintended consequences. “Cigarette tax evasion will skyrocket if this tax hike on traditional cigarettes is adopted, among other problems, and all for little in the way of gains to public health,” said Michael LaFaive, senior director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative.