Commentary

New Mexico’s Plan to Raise Taxes on E-Cigarettes Would Hurt Public Health

E-cigarettes aren’t tobacco products and should be viewed as healthier alternative to help reduce smoking.

The New Mexico Senate just passed bills that would label e-cigarettes “tobacco products,” create a new 76 percent tax on them and ban vaping anywhere that smoking is currently prohibited in the state.

Nearly everything about this approach runs counter to the goals of improving public health and reducing smoking. But the debate has become filled with misconceptions about vaping and e-cigarettes, often due to misinformation from medical professionals who should know better.

For example, Dr. Barry Ramo, a New Mexico doctor, recently urged legislators to act because e-cigarettes “represent the most commonly used form of tobacco by teens and young adults.”

In reality, e-cigarettes do not contain any tobacco. They don’t have the tar or smoke of traditional cigarettes either.

E-cigarette users inhale vapor from flavored liquids. Yes, most of those e-liquids contain nicotine. It’s the same nicotine you’d find in nicotine gum or a nicotine patch, which doctors view as replacements to tobacco and use to help patients quit smoking.

Nicotine use isn’t entirely risk-free, but last year the Royal College of Physicians, which surveyed all the available scientific literature, found “e-cigarettes are much safer than smoking” and the “hazard to health arising from long-term vapor inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco.”

That would make e-cigarettes 95 percent safer than cigarettes. And it’s not difficult to understand why. Put simply, it’s not nicotine that causes smokers to get sick and die. No, it’s lighting tobacco on fire – and breathing in the toxic and carcinogenic products of combustion – that kills some smokers.

While health officials lead a misguided war on e-cigarettes, they should instead focus on fighting lung cancer. In that battle, e-cigarettes can finally help us win. The Royal College of Physicians found that getting smokers to switch to e-cigarettes could “prevent death and disability from tobacco use, and to hasten our progress to a tobacco-free society.”

As for concerns about youth, leaders should understand the facts before acting in ways that might cause more harm. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey demonstrates that as e-cigarette experimentation has risen among minors and young adults, we’ve seen a concurrent and dramatic decline in youth smoking. Youth smoking rates have declined to levels lower than we’ve seen in generations. This is a good thing.

Let’s hope Governor Susana Martinez stands firm in her opposition to any tax increases. And, as these bills move to the House, legislators would be wise to stop viewing them as money-makers and start viewing them on the issue of public health. E-cigarettes are a tool that can reduce smoking rates, lower health care costs and save lives.