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House committee approves 75 percent tax on e-cigarettes

Lawmakers in Olympia want to slap a stiff tax on a tobacco substitute that’s growing in popularity as a quit-smoking tool. A House committee narrowly approved a 75 percent tax on electronic cigarettes.

The substitute measure passed the House Finance Committee 7-6. HB 2795 originally called for a 95 percent tax on distributors of e-cigarettes, part of the so-called Other Tobacco Products tax.

Rep. Cary Condotta, R-Wenatchee, criticized the tax, saying e-cigarettes work where nicotine patches and other strategies promoted by the quit-smoking industry have failed.

“This (tobacco substitute) industry has accomplished more in just a few years than they’ve done in 25 years in getting people off (tobacco),” he said.

But a recent University of California San Francisco study of 75,000 young Korean smokers found that those using e-cigarettes were more likely to be trying to quit. But, it turns out, they were also smoking more real cigarettes.

“Even though more of them had made an attempt to quit smoking than the cigarette smokers who weren’t using the e-cigarette, they were actually less likely to be successful in that attempt to quit smoking,” Group Health Cooperative researcher Jennifer McClure told KIRO Radio in December.

Rep. Gerald Pollett, D-Seattle, conceded the popularity of e-cigarettes, but said the jury is out on their safety.

“The industry itself refuses to do the long term credible studies that are needed,” he said.

The safety argument is a red herring, according to Rep. J.R. Wilcox, R-Yelm.

“This bill has nothing to do with safety or health,” he said. “There’s nothing in this bill that regulates. It’s just a tax bill.”

The bill would drop the taxation if the federal government approves e-cigarettes as a quit-smoking device.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that almost 2 million young people have tried e-cigarettes and that the number of kids smoking e-cigarettes doubled between 2011 and 2012.

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