A tax on e-cigarettes, previously proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick, dropped from the administration’s budget proposal Monday, which is set for release Jan. 22.
Karmen Hanson, health program manager at the Conference of State Legislatures, said policymakers are still trying to determine how e-cigarettes should be regulated because they are relatively new on the market.
“Because the federal government hasn’t acted, states aren’t quite sure what to do with them,” she said. “In the absence of any federal activity or federal policy, states are starting to act just so they know that they’re doing something.”
The tax proposal would have made Massachusetts the second state to impose a tobacco tax on e-cigarettes. Minnesota was the first when they redefined their state law about taxable tobacco products in 2010.
According to the Conference of State Legislatures website, e-cigarettes “… do not produce a combustible ‘smoke’ like traditionally burned cigarettes, nor do they contain tar, a by-product of burning tobacco.”
The Food and Drug Administration said it would begin regulation of e-cigarettes in 2011, but so far no regulations have been passed due to debate about the safety of the e-cigarette, the FDA website said.
Only a few states have made strides toward regulating e-cigarettes, including defining it as a tobacco product and prohibiting sale to minors.
A study done by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Protection called “Notes from the Field: Electronic Cigarette Use Among Middle and High School Students” showed a rise in e-cigarettes purchases, largely due to the lack of regulations.
“E-cigarettes that are not marketed for therapeutic purposes are currently unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and in most states there are no restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors,” the study said. “Use of e-cigarettes has increased among U.S. adult current and former smokers in recent years.”
The study also showed that e-cigarette use doubled from 2011 to 2012 among U.S. middle and high school students, resulting in an estimated 1.78 million students who had used e-cigarettes as of 2012. Of these students, an estimated 160,000 students reported never using conventional cigarettes.
“This is a serious concern because the overall impact of e-cigarette use on public health remains uncertain,” the study said. “In youths, concerns include the potential negative impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development, as well as the risk for nicotine addiction and initiation of the use of conventional cigarettes or other tobacco products.”
Given the increase in the use of e-cigarettes among youth, the CDC said it would work along with the FDA to prevent the marketing, sale and use of the product in minors.
Several residents said a tax would stop people from using e-cigarettes, but they were not sure a tax should be implemented.
Mary Biagiotti, 55, of East Boston, said a tax might hinder the therapeutic aspect that e-cigarettes provide to users who are trying to quit conventional smoking.
“My first reaction is that e-cigarettes shouldn’t be taxed,” she said. “If they’re helping people stop smoking, which I think a lot of the time that’s what they’re using them for, then you’re going to just divert someone’s thing that is going to help them stop smoking.”
Troy Barboza, 26, of Brookline, a former e-cigarette user, said that a tax could be enough to deter people, especially youths, from purchasing e-cigarettes. However, he said that e-cigarettes were helpful when he wanted to quit smoking.
“Any sort of additional monetary cost is enough to deter people,” he said. “But having used electronic cigarettes, it’s not quite the same [as a conventional cigarette], and it’s enough of a difference where making the transition [between the two] was very difficult. I pushed through it and it [the e-cigarette] ended up helping me a lot.”
John Hatcher, 29, of Fenway, said when dealing with tobacco addiction, most people would be willing to pay a small tax.
“I don’t think a tax would deter them,” he said. “Once you become addicted to nicotine, you’re going to do whatever it takes.”