The R Street Institute urges all members to reject the tobacco tax provisions in the Build Back Better Act. In their current form, these provisions would undermine the United States Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authorization of modified risk tobacco products and likely result in consumers reverting back to using deadly combustible cigarettes.

In October 2019, the FDA granted the first-ever modified risk orders for eight smokeless tobacco products, which formally acknowledged that tobacco products exist on a continuum of risk, with combustible cigarettes being the most harmful. To obtain this authorization, tobacco companies submit a modified risk tobacco product application that demonstrates the reduced-risk profile of a particular product—backed by scientific evidence. From the United Kingdom to Norway to New Zealand, public health experts have called for the integration of reduced-risk products in comprehensive tobacco control, as evidence has demonstrated their utility in decreasing combustible cigarette use. For example, Public Health England found electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn products—both forms of smokeless tobacco—to be 95 percent safer than combustible cigarettes. In the United States, data modeled by the nation’s top cancer researchers found that replacing combustible cigarette use with e-cigarettes over a 10-year period would result in 6.6 million fewer premature deaths.

Despite the scientific evidence that demonstrates the utility of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool, the Build Back Better Act proposes a 2000 percent tax increase for these types of reduced-risk products. This approach will not result in a smoke-free America and will likely undo decades of progress. To reduce harm, a more effective public health approach would involve taxation proportionate to health risks thereby incentivizing consumers to choose less harmful products. The House of Representatives would better serve the public if it considered the unintended consequences of generating revenue through efforts proven to increase the use of combustible cigarettes.

For more information, please contact Mazen Saleh, Director of Integrated Harm Reduction, R Street Institute, at [email protected].

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