Didn’t somebody say “Taxation without Representation is Tyranny”?
With state and local politicos all over the USA scrambling for an advantageously visible spot on the anti-e-cig bandwagon, New Jersey Governor and presidential hopeful Chris Christie appears to be carving out a berth based on advocacy of a 75% wholesale state tax on vaping products. The measure, supported by the governor's office and currently moving through the legislative bodies, would make New Jersey the third state to tax vaping supplies, following on the heels of Minnesota's wholly punitive 95% tax and North Carolina's moderate 5¢ per milliliter of e-liquid.
Christie, who was selected to give the keynote address at the last Republican Convention, and whose name has been frequently touted for Obama's job, claims the tax would produce significant revenue ($35 million annually), which would go a long way toward closing the state's budget gap. This of course would also go a long way toward reviving Christie's political fortunes after a messy scandal regarding intentionally engineered traffic jams that were seen as gubernatorial retaliation against local politicos. It seldom hurts a foundering politician to wrap oneself in the banner of "defending our children".
A statewide coalition of mom-and-pop vape shops, the New Jersey Vapor Retailers Coalition, is up in arms about the matter, and has hired the top lobbying firm MWW to help with opposition to the measure, claiming that the tax will harm not only vape shops, but also other stores that sell vaping supplies, such as gas stations and convenience stores. Of course e-cig juggernauts Lorillard/Blu (which also sells poisonous cigarettes) and NJOY (which does not) also oppose the tax, but it is refreshing to see press coverage of a vaping supplies coalition that does not mention well-funded poison dealers as market leaders.
The tax would be a burden comparable to what New Jersey now charges on poisonous cigarettes, which amounts to almost $3 per pack, even though a growing body of scientific information is making it increasingly clear that vaping is an antidote to the poisons of cigarette smoking. New Jersey has already banned vaping in public places. It has also banned sale of e-cigs to persons under 19 years of age, a move which has long been supported by vape shops, e-cig manufacturers and distributors, and responsible convenience stores (although this fact is usually downplayed in the shrill demands for age limits by anti-vaping advocates).
"You've got legislators trying to put a tax on something they don't understand," says vape shop owner Ryan Bunting. Meanwhile, a representative of Christie's office says "Gov. Christie wants to level the playing field and close loopholes," a statement whose meaning remains unclear. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for a non-partisan tax foundation says, "You shouldn't be trying to tax new products to the extent of putting them out of business."
Of course the Fruit Loops theory advocates have weighed in: "They're selling sweet flavors like gummy bears and fruit loops," said Fruit Loops theorist Vince Wilmore of the Campaign for Smoke-Free Kids. "It's irresponsible. They're trying to re-glamorize smoking and undermine decades of efforts to reduce it," echoing an oft-repeated refrain whose evidential basis is shrinking by the day. Vape shop owner Sam Ross, a former smoker, owns that many flavors are sweet, but notes that most of his customers are in their 20s and 30s.
Of course, ex-smokers who now vape instead will not flock back to Lorillard's cancer sticks just because New Jersey wants to use their pocketbooks to compensate for the state's budgetary mistakes. They'll just pay the higher prices. But didn't I hear something last week, in an Independence Day celebration, about our heroic founders claiming that "Taxation without Representation is Tyranny"? Maybe somebody should mention that to presidential hopeful Christie.