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Port blog: Cigarette tax hike ballot measure seems like a war on vaping, too

REUTERS/Mark Blinch. File photo.

The ballot measure to hike North Dakota’s tobacco taxes I wrote about earlier this week was announced yesterday.

You can read a copy of the measure as submitted to the Secretary of State’s office here.

As expected, it’s a 400 percent tax hike on cigarettes, taking North Dakota’s $0.44 per-pack tax to $2.20 per-pack. The justification for the tax hike, of course, is price prohibition. More expensive cigarettes means less smoking.

Related: ND ballot measure would boost tax on pack of cigarettes by $1.76

“We do know that it reduces usage, and that saves money for everybody,” Dr. Eric Johnson, a Grand Forks physician and chairman of the measure’s sponsoring committee, said yesterday.

Some might argue that the justification is also revenue for anti-tobacco activists and bureaucrats. Because their revenue from the anti-tobacco class action lawsuits is drying up soon, per this note in North Dakota’s 2015-2017 budget (page 55):

Their cash cow is running out of milk, so the anti-tobacco folks need more money. Thus a ballot measure that is expected to produce ”more than $50 million a year” in revenues, as Mike Nowatzki reports.

Some of that revenue will go to a new trust fund for veterans. Deft politics, that. If you oppose this measure, then you want to deny veterans assistance!

But the measure is far more than just a tax hike on cigarettes. It’s also a war on vaping.

The measure expands the definition of “tobacco products” to include things including nicotine derived from tobacco. Like the liquid used in e-cigarettes.

The measure requires businesses dealing in vaping products register with the Attorney General’s office.

 

Oh, and the tax on “tobacco products” (which now includes vaping products) just doubled, going from 28 percent of the wholesale prices to 56 percent.

That would be a new tax for vaping products. I called the Tax Commissioner’s Office this morning and inquired about current taxes for vaping products and was told that they are only currently subject to the regular sales tax. The gentleman I spoke with said that if the measure were to pass vaping products would be subject to both the sales tax and the tobacco products tax.

Interestingly, the organization behind the measure – they call themselves Raise it for Health North Dakota  – didn’t mention the tax hike or new regulations for vaping.

Maybe because raising taxes on vaping, which has become a safer alternative for smokers, doesn’t fit the “Raise it for Health” narrative.

This bait-and-switch has been pulled before. Meause 4 on the 2012 ballot banned smoking in all public places in the state. It passed by a landslide, 66 percent to 33 percent, but I wonder how many people realized that the smoking ban was also a vaping ban?

Because it was, but that wasn’t talked about much during the debate over the measure.

Let’s not make that mistake again. The anti-tobacco folks want to lump vaping in with tobacco again. I think that’s mistake, because vaping isn’t the same as smoking.

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