The European Union seems unclear on how it would like to proceed when it comes to tackling the topic of electronic cigarettes. Public health experts around the world are debating over their harm and the opportunity they might provide regarding tobacco control. Meanwhile, many political groups seem dead set on implementing policy before they know what appropriate and beneficial policy would be.
The EU seems no different. They are currently debating whether to require countries to place a 57% excise tax on all electronic cigarettes (though that debate may be closed for now). This would treat them the same as tobacco cigarettes and would be implemented explicitly to fight e-cig use throughout the EU.
The problem is that there is no evidence that a “sin tax” on e-cigs would help anyone. And there is a lot of evidence that it may ultimately be a terrible decision for public health interests.
First, taxing e-cigs at the same rate as tobacco cigarettes suggests that the two are essentially the same. That certainly couldn’t be further from the truth. Current evidence shows electronic cigarettes to be about 99% less harmful that tobacco cigarettes and to pose no measurable secondhand harm. At the same time, misleading the general public about this fact may lead to individuals choosing tobacco cigarettes over the electronic variety when they might go the other way. This would either prevent reductions in harms to public health from continuing or — in the worst case — increase overall harm to public health as individuals that did move to e-cigs go back to smoking.
There has also been extensive debate over whether sin taxes actually work. Many experts argue that the don’t prevent enough of a behavior to be worth their drawbacks. Beyond that, they often have a more detrimental effect on poor individuals and communities which can’t afford alternatives, lack education necessary to prevent or kick the sinning habits, and can rarely afford to have even less money in their pocket.
Hopefully the European Union goes a different way. According to an insider, the commission seems to have passed on the idea in favor of more pressing matters. But they did say the issue would be looked at again if member states decide it was a priority. In their words: “There are no plans at present on the commission side to tax ecigarettes, but we are prepared to look at the issue in greater detail if this were to be considered a priority by EU member states.”
You can read the full story here.