In recent months, efforts to subject e-cigarettes to the same laws as traditional cigarettes have swept the country. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has unanimously voted to subject the smokeless, tobacco-less cigarette to the same public bans as cigarettes. Across the country in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie recently unveiled a new budget plan that will subject e-cigarettes to the same excise tax rate as their tobacco-filled cousins.
So, should e-cigarettes and cigarettes be subject to the same laws? The resolution of this question (if there can really be one) is likely going to depend almost exclusively on public policy reasons because it doesn’t seem intuitive that tobacco-less products should be treated legally the same as tobacco-filled products. The policy reasons supporting identical treatment, mainly protecting the country’s youth and not wanting to encourage nicotine addiction, are strong. This is especially so considering that many e-cigarette manufacturers produce cartridges flavored to taste like fruits, bubble gum, and even soda.
However, I wonder whether these policies are outweighed by the policy of encouraging people to quit smoking. Many people have either decreased their cigarette intake or have stopped smoking cigarettes entirely thanks to e-cigarettes because many types of e-cigarettes provide cartridges with varying levels of nicotine to allow users to wean themselves off of cigarettes and/or nicotine completely. The well-known methods of quitting, patches and gum, also provide varying levels of nicotine for much the same reason. However, because those methods have been approved by the FDA as ways to quit, states that are adjusting their tax codes to include the electronic cigarette do not seem to be including patches and gum under the tax. This will likely result in severe tax code inconsistencies in terms of treatment of nicotine delivery methods, and the last thing a tax code needs is more complication.