E-cigarette tax more likely to pass than raise in legal vaping age, Indiana chamber law expert says

A 4-cent tax on e-cigarette fluid, which no-smoking advocates say makes those products less attractive to teenagers, has a better shot at becoming law in Indiana than does raising the legal vaping age, an Indiana chamber official said during a recent interview.

Right now, it's all about House Bill 1444, which passed the state House last month and now is in a state Senate committee, Indiana Chamber of Commerce Health Care Policy and Employment Law Vice President Mike Ripley told Indiana Business Daily.

"HB 1444, which focuses on the taxation of e-cigarettes, is still going through the process and there appears to be much interest in doing something to detour teen usage," Ripley said. "Vaping and using the Juul pod system are a real problem among high school students. There was a parade of school administrators who testified to that effect when the bill was in the House. This issue has definitely gotten the attention of legislators, so the odds seem in favor of something passing."

Not faring so well is Senate Bill 425, which was introduced into that chamber in January, which would raise the minimum age to purchase nicotine-laced e-liquids from the current 18 to 21, except for exempt members of the military. SB 425 was reassigned last month to the House Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy, where it appears likely to remain.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce Health Care Policy and Employment Law Vice President Mike Ripley   Photo courtesy of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce

"Raising the legal age for smoking (and vaping) is more up in the air," Ripley said. "For starters, what will make things harder and less certain is no bill with that policy is currently alive, so it will have to be added via amendment to a similar bill (like HB 1444)."

The future of an idea like SB 425 is murky, Ripley said.

"In general, while the appetite for raising the smoking age has increased among legislators, it remains uncertain if there is enough desire yet to make it happen," he said.

HB 1444, which would levy a tax on e-cigarettes that contain nicotine of 4 cents per fluid milliliter and sent the resulting revenue to the state's general fund, seems to have a much better shot.

HB 1444 is sponsored by Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso), authored by Rep. Timothy Brown (R-Crawfordsville) and co-authored by Deputy Speaker Pro Tempore Todd Huston (R-Pendleton), Speaker Pro Tempore Mike Karickhoff (R-Kokomo), Rep. Sheila Klinker (D-Lafayette).

The bill passed the state House on Feb. 12 in a 53 to 40 roll call vote before it was referred to the Senate, where it was referred to that chamber's Appropriations Committee on March 4.

Indiana, which already has a grade of "F" from the American Lung Association for its low 99.5-cent-a-pack cigarette tax, lags in smoking prevention and education resources, according to an association report issued in January. That problem bleeds over into e-cigarette usage, which is "reaching epidemic levels" with a 78 percent increase in high school e-cigarette use between 2017 to 2018, according to the report, which cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

"And Indiana's smoking rate is only getting worse and worse," Ripley told Indiana Business Daily. "Indiana is now the 44th worst state for smoking, down from 39th. This has also become urgent due to teenage vaping. Raising the legal age is the main thing that can be done to help that. Our kids are getting hooked on nicotine via vaping and don't even know it."

The issue isn't only about health, Ripley said.

"Smoking also has a tremendous fiscal impact on businesses, to the tune of $6.2 billion a year," Ripley said. "Smokers cost 40 percent more in health insurance coverage and are less productive, with smoke breaks amounting to an extra three weeks away from work."

The American Lung Association has recommended implementing and increasing cigarette and e-cigarette taxes as a means of making those products less attractive to teenagers. However, even if HB 1444 were to become law, its 4 cents per fluid milliliter would be among the lowest e-cigarette taxes in the nation, below Kansas and North Carolina where the tax is 5 cents per fluid milliliter and West Virginia where the tax is 7.5 cents per fluid milliliter.

However it might be done, it is critical that Indiana's legal vaping age be raised, Ripley said.

"The Indiana Chamber certainly believes the state's smoking (and vaping) age should be raised to 21 and has pushed for that to happen the last few years," Ripley said. "We believe raising the legal age is a critical step because the vast majority of lifelong smokers start in their teens. They become addicted and can't quit."

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Organizations in this Story

American Lung Association Indiana Chamber of Commerce U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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