In a Special Budget Session, the West Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate voted to subject electronic cigarettes and vapor products to a new, onerous excise tax. By a vote of 63-45, the House voted to adopt a Senate proposal that is expected to yield $98 million in new revenue for the state over the next year.

Senate Bill 1012, which passed in the Senate over the weekend and the House today, included both a $.65 per pack cigarette tax hike and a new 7.5 cents per mL e-liquid tax.  The latter element of the packages makes West Virginia only the 5th state in the nation to subject vapor products to a sin tax.

Click here for a map of vapor taxes in the states. 

Americans for Tax Reform expressed its opposition to these tax hikes in a letter to the legislature, which can be read here.

We summarized the dangers in increasing the reliance on tobacco taxes by explaining,

“Targeted excise taxes have proven to be unstable sources of revenue, and ultimately can cause a reduction in tax receipts…In fact, only three out of the 32 state tobacco tax increases, enacted between 2009 and 2013, have met or exceeded tax revenue projects.”

This is largely due to black market smuggling, cross-border sales, and the seeking out of lower cost products in cheaper markets. All of these acts result in greater burdens on low-income consumers and to the detriment of in-state small businesses like convenience stores.

The greater affront to public health, however, came in the form of the new tax on electronic cigarettes and vapor products, which will now be taxed at a rate of 7.5 cents per mL of e-liquid.

We explained,

“These tobacco-free technology products are helping tens of thousands of smokers make the transition to far healthier alternatives. By imposing a 7.5-cent per mL tax on e-cigarettes…this punitive tax is both anti-health and a shameless cash grab…It is reckless to destroy with tax hikes small businesses accomplishing what tax hikes on cigarettes never could, getting people to quit smoking.”  

Vapor products are between 95 and 99 percent less harmful than combustible cigarettes and tax hikes clearly work against efforts to reduce the harm associated with smoking.

The House of Delegates rejected an amendment by Delegate Larry Faircloth that would have removed e-cigarettes and vapor products from Senate Bill 1012’s tax hikes. This new tax makes West Virginia the state with the 3rd highest tax rate on the products in the nation.

It should also be noted that with passage of this bill, “No wholesaler or other person may purchase e-cigarette liquids from any seller not approved by the Tax Commission,” setting up a requirement for any company who sells products into WV to first be approved by the state to do so, beginning on July 1st.  

Instead of reining in spending, the legislature has imposed a senseless cash grab on consumers of smoking cessation products while increasing the state’s dependence on a volatile revenue source. As the legislature prepares for next year’s budget debate, it should consider repealing these tax hikes as part of a broader effort on tax reform.