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More dead in o-hi-yo

More dead in o-hi-yo

Ohio governor John Kasich wants to slap a whopping new tax on all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes. Is this a high-minded crusade to slow tobacco sales, a crass grab for dollars to fund a flagging state budget, or an attempt to quash vaping products, secretly supported by Big Tobacco? Time will tell.

If the proposed budget passes, a 30-milliliter bottle of e-liquid now costing $21-$23 (including current state and local sales taxes) would spike up to more than $33. The tax on poisonous cigarettes would go up by $1 - $2.25.

Says Gary Gudmundson, spokesperson for the state tax division, "It really is a matter of uniformity of tax for nicotine-delivery products." Vapers and vape shop owners in the state, as well as national harm reduction advocates, see it differently, according to the Columbus Dispatch in the state's centrally located capital, Columbus. Greg Conley, head of the American Vaping Association calls it "the ultimate stab in the back to small businesses" in the vaping supplies industry.

Dispatch staff writer Maria DeVito says that information on e-cig safety is lacking, ignoring the growing number of studies showing no toxicants above innocuous trace levels, and zero studies showing significant harm. The new US Surgeon General is also quoted feigning ignorance of the increasing body of evidence: “This is an area we don’t have a lot of data on right now on whether e-cigarettes are safe.... We don’t know, for example, what the health impacts are.” Other recent statements by Murty, in another state, presented a more positive attitude toward potential e-cig benefits. The SG seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth.

The increase in state revenues from the tax on nicotine products other than e-cigs would be $822.2 million over a two year period, while the increase from the tax on e-cigs would net only $22.3 million during the same period.

Using conservative statistical estimates, rounding down to whole numbers, one can assume that about 2 million of Ohio's 12 million residents smoke (the national average hovers around 20%). Roughly half of them will die early of smoking-related diseases (according to the CDC), and roughly half of them are trying to quit. Close to half of quit attempts involve electronic cigarettes (according to the Minnesota Department of Health, says Conley), and recent studies are showing a success rate, with e-cigs, close to 10%. Using rough arithmetic, this would mean about 2000 successful quits, if the price of e-cigs remains competitive with cigarettes.

Measured against a $20 million loss in state revenues, if e-cigs are not taxed heavily, that comes to about $10 thousand per dead smoker, substantially lower than the cost of medical treatment and burial of same.

At the time of the Kent State massacre in the early 70s, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young came out with the song "Four dead in O–hi–o". If Kasich's tax goes through, there will be "more dead in O-hi-o". The governor is trading in lives.