Lawmakers in Olympia will consider legislation this week that would tax e-cigarettes and vaping just like other tobacco products. The products are relatively inexpensive, and one state lawmaker says the industry hasn't been paying its fair share.
Representative Gerry Pollet says the e-cigarette and vape industry “grew under the radar” in recent years and they haven’t been paying the same taxes as other nicotine products. Pollet says he wants them to be considered “tobacco products” under the law and face the same taxes as things like snuff or smokeless tobacco.
It’s a proposal that has people concerned at the Future Vapor shop in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Owner Zach McLain turned to vaping to help him kick smoking and believes it’s a much healthier alternative.
Cameron Fletcher works at the store and says the majority of their customers are long-time smokers looking for something better.
“Our goal is to get people off cigarettes and eventually off vapor” Fletcher explained.
They worry a spike in prices could put them out of business. “This is a wild tax, it’s out of nowhere, and it’s a huge blow to the industry,” he said.
Pollet teaches Public Health at the University of Washington and says he’s not convinced vaping is any safer than cigarettes. “They’re dirt cheap, and they're not healthy,” he said.
“They probably should've been paying a tax called ‘the other tobacco product tax,' they've been getting away with paying zero taxes,” Pollet said. Forty-percent of the money collected would go to education, prevention and health programs for teens but the rest would go into a general fund.
Pollet says they've seen an alarming increase in the number of teens vaping and then going over to traditional smoking.
“This is an addiction it causes serious health effects,” Pollet said.
Vape shop owners say they’re fine with paying their fair share but don’t believe they should be run out of business by a tax. They’re also concerned raising the price could push some people back to cigarettes.
The two sides disagree about the safety of vaping and e-cigarettes. They'll face off in Olympia at a public hearing on March 21.