How a popular tax on nicotine products could turn out to be bad for the children

There’s always a certain schadenfreude to be enjoyed when lawmakers – even, or perhaps especially, with the best of intentions – fail to look ahead properly and so end up falling foul of the law themselves. The law, that is, of unintended consequences.

Take the curious case currently unfolding in the US state of Colorado, where a no-doubt well-meaning ballot measure enthusiastically taken up by voters just 18 months ago now has Assembly members tied up in a knot of their own making.

No doubt it seemed a really good idea to the Democrat-led legislature when they put forward Proposition EE, “creating a tax on nicotine products such as e-cigarettes, increasing cigarette and tobacco taxes, setting minimum cigarette prices, and dedicating revenues to various health and education programs”. It certainly appealed to the voters, more than two-thirds of whom (2.13m citizens) said “Yes” to it.

Not only was it a measure to cut the use of nicotine products (notable that e-cigarettes were put before combustibles in the wording of the proposition), but it also brought in the money for the state to set up a classroom-based pre-school program for under-fives. The campaign groups Save the Children Action Network and A Brighter, Healthier Future for Colorado’s Kids were keen enough to put money behind the plan.

 

The synthetic bogeyman

 

The use of the new tax to fund the pre-kindergarten (pre-K) project was particularly emphasised by those who drew up and promoted the measure. At least one of whom is also cited as a prime sponsor of a bill currently under discussion in the state House of Representatives. That bill, House Bill 22-1064, would prohibit the distribution of flavoured nicotine products, specifically including those containing that bogeyman-of-the-moment, synthetic nicotine.

Clearly, this proposal – like the publicly popular nicotine tax that preceded it – is motivated by the intention of reducing the use of tobacco and related products. The trouble is that the better it works, the more it cuts off the money supply to that wonderful new pre-K program.

You can almost hear representative Kyle Mullica, whose bill this is, bashing his head on the table when he says: “We always run that risk when we want to fund these important programs off of taxes like this that are vices.” And admits: “I don’t think that’s probably the most appropriate way to fund these programs.”

You know, maybe it isn’t.

There may be no immediately obvious connection between e-cig flavours and the welfare of small children. And you surely wouldn’t assume that banning flavours might damage little kids’ education chances. But there you go unintended consequences.

– Aidan Semmens TobaccoIntelligence staff

Photo: Michael Levine-Clark

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