The original bill, introduced at the request of Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, made this change to the definition of “other tobacco products” in current tax code:
If that language were to pass as-is, it would subject e-cigarettes to the same 28 percent tax on the wholesale cost that snuff and chewing tobacco is subject to.
The amendment which was brought to the House floor today modified that statement to specifically exempt e-cigarettes:
This set off a lengthy debate about lawmakers about whether or not e-cigarettes and similar electronic smoking devices ought to be taxed like other regular tobacco products (watch above).
“In my estimation these things should be totally illegal,” Rep. Dave Monson (R-Osnabrock) said on the floor. “If it is legal, the least we could do is tax it like regular cigarettes.”
But other lawmakers disagreed. “They’re two different things,” Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) said. “Premarin comes from horse urine,” he added, this medication. “I don’t think we’re going to regulate that like animals or horses.”
Other lawmakers who opposed the amendment noted that e-cigarette products often state on their packaging that they contain nicotine derived from tobacco, but Rep. Mark Owens (R-Grand Forks) wasn’t buying that questioning why nicotine patches and gum weren’t also being taxed as tobacco products.
Ultimately the amendment failed on a 41-52 vote.
That’s a little frustrating. Despite the hyperbole, it’s pretty clear that e-cigarettes aren’t anything like traditional tobacco products in terms of how they’re sold, how they’re used, and the impact on our health. In fact, there’s a great deal of evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes a significantly healthier alternative to traditional tobacco.
E-cigarettes are a new product, and the state is going to have to adjust its laws to accommodate them, but simply lumping this new and different product that shares very little with traditional tobacco products, as the anti-tobacco zealots seem to want, is more than a little shortsighted.
Whatever you may think of e-cigarettes, one thing we shouldn’t do is treat them like regular tobacco products under the law.