E-cigarettes: The Jury is Out…But It Shouldn’t Be on Extending the NYC Smoke-Free Air Act to Their Use

cheryl_healtonOur Guest Blogger today is Dr. Cheryl Healton, Dean of Global Public Health at NYU and the Director of the Global Institute of Public Health.  She weighs in on the proposed legislation to extend the NYC Smoke-Free Air Act to include e-cigarettes:

The New York City Council will vote tomorrow whether to extend the NYC Smoke-Free Air Act (SFAA) to e-cigarettes. This decision is a key turning point for tobacco control policy and will have potentially broad national and even global implications. How e-cigarettes will influence youth entry to tobacco use and the efforts of people to quit smoking and to stay quit remain unknown, but the net impact could be dire.

Who is the e-cigarette industry?

Increasingly the e-cigarette industry is owned by the tobacco industry, an industry that would not be permitted to exist were it invented tomorrow because it would violate the consumer protection laws of all states and virtually every country in the world. For this reason, a healthy degree of skepticism about the industry’s ultimate goal in buying up e-cigarette manufacturers and creating more “efficient” e-cigarettes should prevail as policy makers establish regulations governing them. It is quite possible that the net effect of e-cigarettes will be to induce greater youth initiation of smoking and reduce the adult cessation rate, but the jury is still out. Both youth and adult smoking rates are at their lowest levels in decades, so much is a stake for the health of the public. There is also much at stake for the tobacco industry as it seeks to apply its considerable marketing acumen and seemingly endless resources to maximize profit by increasing the number who start smoking by enticing youth worldwide to smoke and by trying to retain current smokers.

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Cigarette Taxes and the Black Market

Alexander-Hamilton-9326481-1-401Alexander Hamilton introduced the first federal excise tax on tobacco products in 1794, but it was not implemented until the 1860s. Smuggling to evade taxes has been around ever since.

We know that higher prices for cigarettes save lives and deter youth from starting to smoke.  Every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices reduces youth smoking by about seven percent and total cigarette consumption by about four percent. Cigarette tax evasion makes cigarettes cheaper and reduces the public health benefits of excise taxes, as well as deprives New York City and State of much-needed revenue.

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