Tax, tax, tax that e-cigarette

Johnson City Press • Feb 7, 2020 at 9:58 AM

Whether affordability really factors into the unhealthy decisions to inhale harmful and addictive substances is anyone’s guess, but it might have at least some thinking twice.

What certainly does is help a state mitigate the tremendous burden from health care costs caused by habit-related illnesses.

As Press Staff Writer Brandon Paykamian reported in Tuesday’s edition state data show that nicotine addiction directly impacts state spending. TennCare reported expenditures of nearly $150 million in 2018 for “tobacco-related illness.” This cost represents $147 million for those 21 years and older and $1.7 million for residents under age 21.

A bill in the Tennessee Legislature would tax vapor cartridges at 62 cents each — the same as the tax on a pack of tobacco, while also raising the state’s purchase age for tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21 in compliance with federal law.

State Sen. Rusty Crowe, chairman of the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee, was noncommittal about the legislation when he addressed the bill for the Press, saying he looked forward to “hearing from the people I serve here in Northeast Tennessee and to the benefit of a full and informative debate.”

Here’s some input for the Johnson City lawmaker and the rest of the General Assembly: Support this bill.

While the jury may be out about whether the chemicals in vapor products are as harmful as the toxins in tobacco, studies have shown the products have toxic ingredients including carcinogens.

Nicotine is an overwhelmingly addictive drug, regardless of how you ingest it. With that in mind, experts continue to issue firm warnings to parents about the popularity of flavored nicotine e-cigarettes among children and the gateway connection to tobacco.

Paykamian reported that in Tennessee, teen use of e-cigarettes has doubled within two years. More than 20% of high school students reported using electronic vapor products and tobacco products in the last 30 days. Nearly 95% of adults who smoke began before the age of 21.

If those numbers are not reason enough for the state to act, Crowe and his colleagues should listen to the American Heart Association, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Boys & Girls Clubs of Tennessee, Tennessee Dental Association, Tennessee Hospital Association, Tennessee Medical Association, Tennessee Pharmacists Association, United Ways of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, all of which support the legislation.

Restricting the purchase age and tapping the wallet may be the only ways Tennessee can stem the tide short of outright prohibition.

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