Are they ignoring the evidence?
By now, every legislator and administrator charged with regulating electronic cigarettes and other vapor products should know that using these devices is far less harmful than smoking tobacco.
How much less harmful? Well, a study published in 2015 by Public Health England (PHE) estimated the risks of vaping at less than 5% of the risks of smoking. Shortly thereafter, a study (Nicotine without Smoke) released by the Royal College of Physicians assessed “the likely harm to health and society of e-cigarettes at about 5% of the burden caused by tobacco smoking”.
With respect to smoking cessation, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2019 concluded that e-cigarettes were twice as effective as nicotine replacement therapies in helping smokers to quit.
What about heated tobacco products? They contain tobacco. Do they present the same level of reduced risk as electronic cigarettes? Probably not. But as Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment observed, “the strongly reduced harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHC) levels in the emissions of the heat not burn (HNB) device are likely to reduce toxicant exposure.” in other words, heated tobacco products are likely to be considerably less harmful than smoking tobacco.
Tobacco products exist on a continuum of risk with combustible varieties on one extreme and smokeless tobacco products on the other. In an April 2019 press release to announce it was authorizing the marketing of the IQOS “Tobacco Heating System” manufactured by PM Products S.A. the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indicated that the “products produce fewer or lower levels of some toxins than combustible cigarettes.” The FDA’s decision came on the heels of another important study issued in 2018 by the PHE in the UK which concluded that the “available evidence suggests that heated tobacco products may be considerably less harmful than tobacco cigarettes and more harmful than e-cigarettes.”
Let’s face it. These studies and statements are clear. They are issued by renowned, science-based organizations. Politicians and administrators who tax and regulate vapor products have a duty to be aware of this research. At a minimum it is unprofessional to issue regulations and prepare tax legislation while ignorant of the basic facts.
Sadly, we find numerous examples from the political class of their wanton disregard for the accumulated scientific evidence that undermines the rationale for taxation of vapor products. Last year in the United States, twelve states, including New York, introduced a tax on e-cigarettes. In 2020, legislators in another 10 states, including Georgia, Kentucky and Michigan proposed bills that would extend taxation to vapor products.
The trend is global. Already this year, taxes on heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes have been introduced in Egypt and Ecuador. The Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia announced their intentions to increase the retail sales tax on vaping products to 20 per cent. And so it goes.
Are legislators in all these jurisdictions unaware of the mounting scientific evidence showing that vaping is far less harmful than smoking tobacco? Perhaps, but in our opinion that would demonstrate gross negligence or incompetence or both. A more cynical perspective would suggest that they just don’t care and are only after the tax money. That would be unfortunate.
Post corona world
As we imagine the post Coronavirus world keep in mind that one impact of the economic shutdowns and reduction of business activity inflicted upon so many cities and countries is a huge loss of revenue from sales and excise taxes as well as personal and corporate income taxes. It is a virtual certainty that in the coming months new taxes will be introduced on vapor products in effort to cover the revenue shortfall regardless of the impact on public health. That will be unfortunate.