Should Anti-Tobacco Tax Dollars Be Used To Fight Vaping?


North Dakota’s anti-tobacco tax dollars are being used to fight vaping, and one state lawmaker wants to stop it.

About a month ago I wrote a post about Rep. Mike Schatz, a Republican lawmaker from New England, questioning whether or not it was legal for North Dakota’s Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy to be spending tax dollars fighting vaping when their mandate from voters was, you know, tobacco.

Vaping, you might remember, doesn’t involve tobacco.

At the time Schatz put in a request for a legal opinion on the matter with the Attorney General’s office, and the answer he got is that the Center’s actions are technically legal.

The language from 2008’s Measure 3, which created the Center when voters approved it, mandates the creation of  an anti-tobacco  “comprehensive plan” in keeping with the federal Centers for Disease Control’s best practices. And the CDC has included fighting vaping in its best practices.

“So the wording allows the CDC to basically make law in North Dakota,” Schatz told me in an interview for Watchdog today.

Schatz went on to say that he’s frustrated that the Center is focusing on vaping, especially when there are other areas where that money could be better spent, and he plans to introduce legislation to narrow the Center’s mandate in the 2017 Legislative session:

“I want to organize something and then we can kind of get a groundswell as to what to do with these things,” he told Watchdog, saying he feels the center has exceeded its authority in opposing vaping.

“What I’m seeing is that when you pass an initiative like what was done with Measure 3 and you do not include the word ‘vaping’, how can you just add onto your mission that you didn’t put on the ballot?” Schatz asked. “I don’t understand that. Can you expand in other areas? Can you go into nutrition? Is there someway to stop you? I thought when you passed an initiated measure you did whatever was on it. Apparently not.”

Schatz said he thinks the money spent on combatting vaping could be better spent elsewhere.

“One of the things I’m finding is the mental health problems we have, wow, instead we’re spending money on vaping. That’s not a good trade-off for me,” he said. “You’re spending $13 million on TV ads attacking smoking that have a diminishing rate of returns, but then we’re not spending hardly anything on mental health.”

I think Schatz makes a valid point. It seems to me that we’ve reached a point where knowledge about the health risks of tobacco use is universal. The people who continue to use tobacco anyway do so despite the risks. How many of those sort of people are we going to convince with television and radio ads?

Better, as Schatz says, to re -appropriate those funds to more needful areas. And given that vaping is, based on the evidence available to us today, a much healthier alternative to smoking anyway why would we want to discourage it?