The Minnesota legislature wants to impose a 30 cent per milliliter tax on eliquids for electronic cigarettes. Considering bottles of eliquid are typically sold in 30ml or 60ml sizes, that tax could add up to $9 or $18 per bottle – doubling prices and shuttering small vape shops across the state.
Bills in the House and Senate aim to come up with a standard tax for nicotine products. But as the Senate tax committee heard during its Wednesday hearing on the matter, e-cigs and the people that sell them fall into two big opposing categories.
Testifiers who spoke against the bill included a lobbyist for ClearWay Minnesota, an organization dedicated to keeping tobacco products out of the hands of kids, and Dr. Peter Denhel of the Twin Cities Medical Society.
They argued that the bill favors Big Tobacco companies’ e-cigarette products, such as NJOY and Blu., because these products have fixed, high nicotine concentrations in small amounts of overall eliquid. A tax based on the amount of liquid would be a break for them.
Molly Moilanen of ClearWay said that these e-cigs, because they are cheap, disposable, flavored, and readily available in gas stations and corner stores, seem marketed toward teenagers.
“Minnesota 11th graders report using e-cigs at rates twice as high as cigarettes," said Molly Moilanen of ClearWay. "And new research shows that vaping may be a one-way bridge to cigarette smoking among youth.”
On the other hand, vaping is also a bridge for long-term smokers to quit cigarettes, say representatives of independent vape shops.
Vape shops differ from convenience stores in that they counsel smokers on what sort of eliquids to buy based on how many cigarettes they smoke, with the end goal of gradually weening customers off bottles of eliquids with higher levels of nicotine to zero nicotine. Sometimes different styles of customizable, high-end vaporizers can be extremely technical, and they’ll help customers figure that out too.
The larger bottles have on average 0.3 percent and 0.6 percent nicotine, said Cap O’Rourke of the Independent Vapor Retailers of Minnesota. Big Tobacco products’ average of 5 percent nicotine per e-cigarette.
“We are in fact giving a break, in this bill, to the higher doses of nicotine in the lower amounts,” O’Rourke said. “This is the number one choice for people in Minnesota who are looking to reduce or quit smoking. This would put a huge hurdle, if not close all the shops in Minnesota that are selling [adaptable vaporizers].”
Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), the bill’s author, seemed to acknowledge the proposal was a work in progress that still needed to find a “happy hunting ground.”
Watch the hearing at the Uptake.
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