My name is Steven Greenhut. I am
the Sacramento-based Western director for the R Street Institute. We’re a
Washington, DC-based think tank that promotes pragmatic market-based solutions
to public-policy problems. My region includes Nevada. One of our core areas is
“harm reduction.”

A core tenet of harm reduction –
whether dealing with drug issues, sexual behavior or tobacco use – is that
policy makers shouldn’t focus on the unachievable goal of abstinence but should
make it easier for people to embrace safer strategies. We all know tobacco is
an addictive and dangerous product. If you want to shave 10 years off of your
life, by all means start smoking cigarettes.

But the British Public Health
Agency has determined that vaping products are 95 percent safer than
combustible cigarettes. People who want to quit their bad habit tend to prefer
vaping to medically oriented cessation devices such as patches and gum. It’s
obvious why when you talk to smokers. Vaping offers a similar experience to
smoking without all of the risk.

The British agency argues that
policy makers ought to promote vaping. We don’t make that argument, but are
dismayed at the degree to which policy makers in the United States are making
it much harder and more expensive for people to make the switch through various
regulatory and tax policies.

When lawmakers raise taxes on
vaping, for instance, it’s not going to stop vaping, of course, as many people
will buy the products online. Such policies, however, only make it more cost-effective
for people who already are addicted to nicotine to just grab a pack of
cigarettes at their local convenience store.

By dramatically increasing taxation
and fees on all vaping products including batteries, all aspects of the vaping
unit and liquids, Nevada Bill 263 would create a disincentive for people to
quit smoking and would assure that these vape products are less available given
that high tax rates may reduce the number of retailers. Nevada’s attempt to tax
by wholesale rather than milliliter of vaping liquid, as some other states are
doing, further drives up the overall cost of vaping – and not just on the
product itself — and piles on yet another disincentive. This is the opposite of
harm reduction. Such a policy increases the harm to smokers – and does so based
on a questionable rationale.

R Street shares concerns about
teen-agers starting a habit of vaping. Vaping use among kids is a real problem.
But since when do we tax or further regulate the sale of legal products for
adults under the thinking that doing so will make it harder for younger people
to get their hands on them? Do we raise taxes on alcohol – or ban the building
of new casinos – under the theory that their prevalence will be a draw to

Let’s put the teen vaping epidemic
in perspective. According to the University of Nevada-Reno’s Nevada Youth
Behavior Risk Survey, in 2015 7.5 percent of high school students smoked
cigarettes over the past 30 days. That figure dropped to 6.7 percent for 2017.
In 2015, 19.3 percent of high-school kids smoked marijuana and 17.9 percent did
so in 2017. Likewise, drinking usage was 33.5 percent in 2017 and down to 25.3
percent in 2017. For vaping, the numbers were 25.6 percent in 2015 and 15.5
percent in 2017.

Those figures reinforce two points.
First, some young people will use adult products no matter what the laws might
be. I recall the amount of drinking and marijuana usage that went on when I attended
college in the 1980s and my kids relay stories from more recent years. Kids buy
these substances through friends and black-market sources. People can always
get what they really want, which is one enduring lesson from Prohibition.

The second point is that there may
be some encouraging downward trends among youth for these adult products, even
if the current level of usage remains too high. Enforcement at the retail level
could always be better, however. That seems like a more reasonable and
appropriate way for the state to address underage purchases than raising the taxes
on everyone of legal age who buys vaping products.

Our concern, again, is harm
reduction. As R Street’s harm-reduction academic, Carrie Wade, explains,
“e-cigarettes have the potential to save up to 6 million lives by 2100 if only
10 percent of current smokers switch to e-cigarettes over the next 10 years.”
We’re not asking lawmakers to promote these alternatives, but rather to not
discourage them. Do no harm.

Thank you.

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