New York Legislative Proposals Will Cost Lives and Stifle Business

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Wednesday, March 31st, 2021, 2:13 PM PERMALINK

Americans for Tax Reform wrote this week to legislators in New York, urging them to oppose a series of proposals that would have devastating impacts on the New York economy, as well as public health. These proposals seek to restrict access to e-cigarettes and vapor products, products that have been proven to be 95% safer than traditional cigarettes and are essential for adults who are trying to quit smoking. The full letter can be read below. 

To: Members of the New York Legislature 
From: Americans for Tax Reform 

Dear Legislator,  

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and our supporters across New York, I urge you to reject S 84, S 5098, S 2753, S 3045, S 1167, S 174, A 646, A 668, A 332, A 3514, A 678, A 4374, and A 3499.  

Each of these bills will decrease adult access to lifesaving reduced risk tobacco alternatives like e-cigarettes and vapor products. If passed, these acts of legislation would lead to a clear increase in tobacco-related mortality in the state of New York by forcing more adults to keep smoking – and dying from – dangerous traditional combustible cigarettes. 

About E-Cigarettes and Vapor Products: 

  • Traditional combustible tobacco remains one of the leading preventable causes of death in New York. 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 month, 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 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. Flavors would be prohibited under S 5098. 

  • Evidence demonstrates that flavors also 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 National Youth Tobacco Survey results have shown no increase in nicotine dependency among youths since flavored products entered the market. 

  • A University of Glasgow study showed that e-cigarettes particularly help disadvantaged persons quit smoking. Another new study demonstrated that high-strength electronic nicotine products are particularly helpful for smokers with mental health issues quit smoking, like people with schizophrenia who smoke at rates more than three times the national average. Passing any of the aforementioned bills would fail to decrease inequalities in health and would widen further the socioeconomic disparities that disadvantaged communities face. 

  • Vapor products would save over 390,000 lives if a majority of New York smokers made the switch to vaping, extrapolating from a large-scale analysis performed by leading cancer researchers and coordinated by Georgetown University Medical Centre. 
     

A 678, S 2753, A 3514, S 3045, and S 1167 would each impose onerous taxes that would lead to disastrous impacts not only on New York's businesses, but public health as well. Taxing products proven to be significantly safer than traditional cigarettes at rates like those imposed on cigarettes would fail to incentivize smokers to make the lifesaving switch to vaping. Further, these taxes would drive them back towards deadly cigarettes, going against every principle of sound public policy. Minnesota is serving as a case study on this already. After the state imposed a tax on vaping products, it was determined that it prevented 32,400 additional adult smokers from quitting smoking.  

S 5098 would prohibit flavors in vapor products, a proposal that would keep adults smoking deadly combustible cigarettes and would do nothing to prevent youth use of e-cigarettes and vapor products. Flavors have been proven time and again to be critical to the process of smoking cessation among adults and do not appeal to kids any more than unflavored vapor products do. While many proponents of flavor bans believe it would decrease youth use of nicotine products, real world evidence from San Francisco proves otherwise. San Francisco’s ban on flavored vaping products and e-cigarettes had no impact on usage among youths. To the contrary, after nearly a decade of steady decline in youth use of combustible cigarettes, there has been an increase in cigarette smoking among youths in San Francisco since the flavor ban was enacted. 

S 84, A 3499, and A 04374 would extend the prohibition on flavors to traditional tobacco products like cigarettes and cigarsThese flavor bans would come with significant negative consequences to the state, with no evidence whatsoever that they have any effect on decreasing smoking rates. To the contrary, real-world evidence from Massachusetts demonstrates that flavor bans are counterproductive and come at a substantial cost.  

Since Massachusetts implemented a ban on all flavored tobacco products in the middle of 2020, border purchases and a booming black market have more than made up a decline in sales in the commonwealth. In the first few months since the ban was enacted, Massachusetts retailers have sold 17.7 million fewer cigarette packets compared to the same period last year, while neighboring Rhode Island and New Hampshire have combined to sell 18.9 million more as Massachusetts residents stock up across state lines. This has cost the state a staggering $73,000,000 in revenue. 

Rhode Island and New Hampshire are not the only beneficiaries of Massachusetts’s ban; criminal syndicates have also greatly benefited. Contrary to popular belief that tobacco smuggling is a victimless crime consisting of someone purchasing extra cartons across state lines, most tobacco smuggling, in reality, is run by multi-million-dollar organized crime syndicates. These networks also engage in human trafficking, money laundering, and funnel funds to terrorists. This is why the US State Department has explicitly called tobacco smuggling a “threat to national security”

Paradoxically, these bans will likely increase youth access to tobacco products in New York as, by definition, criminals and smugglers do not obey laws and would not follow the rigorous age-verification requirements mandated at reputable outlets. 

In addition to lost revenue, financing of criminal activities, and a potential uptick in youth tobacco use, another adverse effect of banning flavors is the disproportionate harm it will inflict on minority populations. Approximately 80% of African-Americans and 35% of Hispanics who smoke prefer menthol cigarettes and black adults consume 60% of all cigarillos and non-premium cigars, products that are often flavored. For this reason, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposes flavor bans as they “disproportionately impact people and communities of color”. Specifically criminalizing these products would directly lead to significant setbacks to the pursuit of racial equality and criminal justice reform. 

A 668 would require consumers to visit their physician and receive a prescription for any e-cigarette or vapor product they wish to purchase. This asinine proposal would most effect members of low-income communities who do not have easy access to affordable healthcare. Seventy-two percent of smokers are from low-income communities and this bill would greatly increase socioeconomic disparities in public health. Given that e-cigarettes and vapor products are proven to be particularly helpful to disadvantaged persons seeking to quit smoking, A 668 has the potential to be one of the most dangerous and damaging bills up for consideration in New York this legislative session. 

A 646 would require all vapor products to automatically taper off in nicotine strength. There is no existing evidence that an arbitrary limit on the strength of nicotine vapor products would benefit public health, however, evidence does exist that demonstrates it would cause harm. This proposal would limit the effectiveness of vapor products for heavy smokers who require high-strength nicotine products to quit smoking. Limiting their ability to purchase these products would further disincentivize smokers from making the switch. 

In April of 2020, Nova Scotia instituted a 20mg/mL nicotine cap, alongside a flavor ban, which caused the closure of 50% of all specialty vape stores in the province. Further, regulated cigarette sales increased by 25%, clear evidence that nicotine strength caps drive vapers back to higher risk, combustible cigarettes. Further, a recent study demonstrated that high-strength nicotine e-cigarettes, which would be required to taper off under A 646, dramatically help smokers with mental health issues, like schizophrenia, quit the deadly habit of cigarettes. People who suffer from schizophrenia smoke at a rate more than three times the general population, further illustrating the importance of keeping high-strength nicotine products available to adult consumers. 

A 332 and S 174 would prohibit e-liquid that can be used to refill open-system devices. Refillable e-liquid is a product that has helped countless smokers quit deadly combustible cigarettes and switch to vaping, and the ability of vapers to reuse the same device continuously is important for environmental reasons as well. Reducing the number of e-cigarettes that are disposed of will decrease chemical pollutants in rivers and oceans. 

For the reasons above, in the interests of public health, preventing a sharp rise in criminal activity, defending minority populations, and protecting the New York economy, we urge you to reject S 84, S 5098, S 2753, S 3045, S 1167, S 174, A 646, A 668, A 332, A 3514, A 678, A 4374, and A 3499. Hundreds of thousands of lives quite literally depend on it. 

Sincerely, 
 

Tim Andrews 

Director of Consumer Issues 
Americans for Tax Reform 

Photo Credit: Sam Valadi

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