It is often the case that partisans of one political cause or another obscure their real motivations for the sake of expediency. Non-politicos are likely to characterize such behavior as “lying,” those who work in the world of law-making generally don’t labor under similar ethical burdens.
Such is the case now in Washington state, where Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a budget that includes massive tax hikes on e-cigarettes and vaping products. While Inslee has pitched this proposal as being in the name of “public health,” a cursory investigation reveals his authentic motivations lie elsewhere.
E-cigarettes are devices that transform liquid nicotine solution into a vapor that users inhale to experience much the same sensation as a traditional cigarette. However, unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes produce only a tiny fraction of the toxins that have been shown to lead to catastrophic health conditions and, ultimately, death.
While the public policy debate about the health implications of e-cigarettes continues, a growing consensus within the medical community forcefully make the case that e-cigarettes present a meaningfully diminished risk when compared to traditional cigarettes.
In spite of the distinction between smoking and vaping, Governor Inslee insists that a 95 percent excise tax on vapor products, identical to the tax currently levied on traditional tobacco products, is necessary to introduce horizontal uniformity to Washington law. The new tax would generate $18.1 million in revenue annually.
That’s a good amount of cash, but it is only a small element of Gov. Inslee’s larger plan to raise taxes by $1.4 billion over the next two years. Why do Olympia’s professional spenders need all of this extra money?
In 2012, the state Supreme Court found that the state Legislature was failing to adequately discharge its obligation to fund public schools. Three years later, the state still has yet to comply with the court’s order to rectify its lapse and has been found in contempt for its failure.
That’s bad. It gets worse.
In November 2014, voters approved Initiative 1351. That measure, a master class in ways the initiative process encourages voters to conflate good will with sound policy, directs the state to reduce K-12 class sizes. To accomplish this objective, the state will be required to hire an additional 15,000 teachers and to spend roughly another $2 billion over the coming biennium.
Which brings us full-circle, back to Gov. Inslee’s authentic rationale for going after vapor products. He desperately needs the money and knows that purporting to raise revenue in the name of public health is the path of least resistance. Voters routinely favor measures to restrict liberty and to raise taxes for the sake of improved public health.
Perhaps most frustratingly ironic about Inslee’s effort to conflate vaping with smoking is that e-cigarettes are a successful tobacco cessation tool. By increasing the tax on their sale, he is trading on ignorance, perhaps even his own, in such a way that moving away from tobacco use will become more difficult.
Ultimately, that the health-conscious arguments of the governor’s office are at once factually inaccurate and obfuscatory will matter little in the final estimation, so long as the state gets it money.