WASHINGTON — A new House bill filed late Wednesday takes aim at vaping and smoking by not only banning flavors in electronic cigarettes and tobacco products, but also by tripling the federal taxes on them to discourage use by younger people.
Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and his co-sponsor, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), proposed the legislation amid a growing concern about lung illnesses and death from use of e-cigarettes and a growth in the number of high school students vaping.
“The bottom line is: It’s a revenue producer, but it's more to discourage people, especially kids, from smoking and vaping,” Suozzi said about the bill in a phone interview. “And it’s proven, it’s worked. I’ve seen it work in New York.”
New York already has the highest tax per pack of cigarettes, at $4.35, among all states, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit research group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that New York has the ninth-lowest rate among states of adult smokers.
The money raised by the higher tobacco and e-cigarette tax — which would rise from $1 to $3 per pack of cigarettes — would help pay for another provision in the bill: boosting the budget of the CDC’s anti-smoking office from $221 million to $500 million.
“To me, this is not an economic issue,” King said in a phone interview. “It’s a health and safety issue.”
Public officials, from mayors to President Donald Trump, have raised concerns in the wake of the CDC’s reporting a week ago of six confirmed deaths and 380 cases of lung illnesses in 36 states that have been linked to vaping and electronic cigarettes.
The bill will join nearly two dozen other measures introduced since the beginning of the year to curb the appeal and availability of pods used in electronic cigarettes by limiting flavors, restricting advertising and funding campaigns to stop smoking and vaping.
Suozzi filed it a day after New York State banned flavored electronic cigarettes Tuesday, following Gov Andrew M. Cuomo's announcement Sunday of an emergency measure to curb youth smoking and vaping. The state will begin enforcing the ban on Oct. 4.
On Thursday, King will join Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) in a news conference in Washington to announce the formation of the Caucus to End the Youth Vaping Epidemic.
The bill sponsored by Suozzi and King codifies into federal law a ban on flavors, including mint and menthol, in e-cigarettes and tobacco products, creates a tax on e-cigarettes and triples the federal tax on cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco.
Because the bill would create and raise federal taxes, the bill must be vetted and approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, of which Suozzi is a member.
The bill is backed by several anti-smoking and anti-vaping groups, including Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and Action on Smoking & Health, according to Suozzi.
But it is expected to face opposition from federal lawmakers representing tobacco-growing states and from the tobacco industry and the fast-growing vaping industry.
The Vapor Technology Association, a lobbying group, already has urged its members and users of vaping devices to email Trump to urge him not to ban flavors in pods for electronic cigarettes, saying it would devastate 11,000 small businesses and result in tens of thousands of layoffs.
The association argues it is already illegal for teens to purchase vapor products and teen use can be better curbed by stricter marketing standards and stronger enforcement of the laws already on the books.
Suozzi acknowledged that his bill could hurt the small delis and shops that sell e-cigarette products and even result in an underground market for illegal and potentially dangerous flavored pods.
“But my argument is: This is killing kids and killing people. We have to do everything we can to discourage it,” he said.