Earlier today, Americans for Tax Reform testified in front of Montana’s Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee in support of HB 137, introduced by Taxpayer Protection Pledge signer Representative Ron Marshall. This legislation that would safeguard Montana residents from tax grabs and poorly thought-out regulations on lifesaving reduced risk tobacco alternatives. Prior to the hearing, ATR Director of Consumer Issues Tim Andrews submitted written testimony to the committee. The full testimony can be read below.
On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and our supporters across Montana, I urge you to support House Bill 137, a pro-taxpayer reform that would protect Montana businesses and consumers from harmful taxes and regulations imposed by local governments on reduced risk tobacco alternatives. Retaining regulatory consistency and uniformity throughout the state in terms of tobacco policy will safeguard Montana residents from poorly thought-out local restrictions, or tax grabs to raise further revenue from some of your most vulnerable constituents. We further note that we fully support a proposed technical amendment to ensure the original intent of the bill is preserved, in that it adds to Montana’s existing preemption provisions, and does not merely replace them.
The pre-emption provisions included in HB 137 are vital to protect both public health and the economy of Montana. It is the fundamental responsibility of state governments to protect their citizens. At times, these threats can come from local government officials. In the instance of tobacco harm reduction policies, local government officials, acting without the degree of scrutiny and accountability found at the state level, may impose punitive taxes on the most vulnerable in their communities without thinking of the hardship this may cause for both employers and consumers. Similarly, lacking the expertise in healthcare policy, such local restrictions and levies may act contrary to all available science and data, serving to restrict the ability of smokers to quit smoking with the help of reduced risk tobacco alternatives.
Even if imposed at a city or county level, these regulations would have the capability to negatively impact the entire state. For instance, increasing taxes would lead to an increase in smuggling and the sale of illicit products, adversely affecting state tax collections while increasing criminal activity. Restricting the use of electronic cigarettes, proven 95% safer than traditional combustible tobacco and twice as effective as more traditional nicotine replacement therapies, would lead to further strains on the state budget due to the healthcare costs incurred by people prevented from using them to quit smoking.
State budgets would also be negatively affected through the forgoing of tax revenue through state income taxes caused by a burgeoning black market that would be caused through the smuggling of illicit products between different jurisdictions and sold without appropriate state taxes being paid. As such, protecting citizens from these policies is not only the moral thing to do, but also in the direct interest of lawmakers in Helena.
It is important to note that, contrary to some arguments made by opponents of this bill, “local control” at its core is about safeguarding individual liberties and restricting the growth of government; it is not a free pass for cities to do whatever they want. Localities are just as capable of being conduits for heavy-handed laws that will harm citizens. When that is at stake, state action is not only appropriate to safeguard individual freedoms – it is essential.
About E-Cigarettes and Vapor Products:
Traditional combustible tobacco remains one of the leading preventable causes of death in Montana. The negative health effects of combustible tobacco come from the chemicals produced in the combustion process, not the nicotine. While highly addictive, nicotine is a relatively benign substance like caffeine and nicotine use “does not result in clinically significant short- or long-term harms”.
Nicotine replacement therapies such as nicotine patches and gums have helped smokers quit for decades. In recent years, advancements in technology have created a more effective alternative: vapor products and e-cigarettes. These products deliver nicotine through water vapor, mimicking the habitual nature of smoking while removing the deadly carcinogens that exist in traditional cigarettes.
Benefits of E-Cigarettes and Vapor Products:
Vapor products have been proven to be 95% safer than combustible cigarettes and twice as effective at helping smokers quit than traditional nicotine replacement therapies.
Vaping has been endorsed by over 30 of the world’s leading public health organizations as safer than smoking and an effective way to help smokers quit.
Just last week, a new analysis by Public Health England demonstrated just how effective vaping is in helping people quit smoking, noting that in just one year, over 50,000 British smokers, who would have continued smoking otherwise, quit smoking with vaping.
Studies have repeatedly shown that flavors, which HB 137 would stop localities from banning, are critical to helping adult smokers make the switch to vaping. Adults who use flavored vapor products are 43% more likely to quit smoking than an adult who uses un-flavored products, according to a recent study from ten of the world’s top experts in cancer prevention and public health.
A University of Glasgow study showed that e-cigarettes particularly help disadvantaged persons quit smoking. HB 137 will have a tremendous impact on public health and would decrease socioeconomic disparities significantly.
Evidence demonstrates that flavors play no role in youth uptake of vaping. Academic studies have found that teenage non-smokers “willingness to try plain versus flavored varieties did not differ” and a mere 5% of vapers aged 14-23 reported it was flavors that drew them to e-cigarettes. National Youth Tobacco Survey results have shown no increase in nicotine dependency among youths since flavored products entered the market.
Vapor products would save over 27,000 lives if a majority of Montana smokers made the switch to vaping, extrapolating from a large-scale analysis performed by leading cancer researchers and coordinated by Georgetown University Medical Centre.
HB 137 – once amended – would protect consumers and business across Montana, ensure state tax collections are not depressed by misguided local taxes and regulations, and would prevent a patchwork of ordinances that would make Montana a more expensive place to do business, all while also damaging public health. Americans for Tax Reform believes it is imperative for state lawmakers to use their power to safeguard their constituents from harmful policies. As such, I urge you to support and vote in favor of HB 137.
Director of Consumer Issues
Americans for Tax Reform