As someone who has been fighting for marijuana legalization since 2005, I have heard from my opponents more times that I can count that their cause is a campaign to protect children from harm. It’s such a standard tactic from them that when any measure purports to be saving the children, I instinctively want to vote against it.
Such is the case with Measure 108 in Oregon and Proposition EE in Colorado. Both are measures that will grossly inflate the cost of tobacco and nicotine vapes in those states, and both are making the case that doing so will protect the children from harm.
"Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children?!"
This video features an Oregon teen, explaining how the kids in her school vape in the bathroom, can’t go 90 minutes in class without sneaking off for a hit, and the vapes are so sleek and disguisable that adults have a hard time catching them.
How does making them far more expensive cure the teens addicted now or make vapes harder to conceal?
We also get the allusion to the flavoring added to vape products, which is intended to paint the purveyors of these devices as marketing to and preying on the vulnerable children.
We know this because adults reject flavors in products they ingest? So, then, menthol cigarettes, sangria, and cherry cough syrup are also fiendish schemes to addict children?
This is the same scare tactic used against marijuana opponents about fruit-flavored THC-infused gummy bears — as if adults would prefer their edible in a tasteless, colorless lump.
Let's Make the Safer Alternative More Expensive!
This video from the campaign explains how other West Coast states have adopted exorbitant tobacco and vape taxes and it’s led to reductions in smoking and vaping by youth and adults.
Under Oregon’s Measure 108, the tax on a pack of cigarettes will increase from $1.33 to $3.33. Vaping products would be taxed at 65% of wholesale, so that Juul Silver Kit that retails at $15 and wholesales at half that will have another $4.88 tax added to it.
Making smokes $2 more expensive to coerce people to not smoke, then make the less-harmful alternative — vaping — almost $5 more expensive? Insanity.
Prohibition By Taxation
Making someone’s addiction more expensive might dissuade someone from starting the habit, sure. So why stop at $3.33 a pack? Make the tax $33 a pack and nobody will smoke ever!
This is the prohibitionist mindset: I find something people choose to do offensive, dangerous, and costly; therefore, I will enact punitive policies (taxation, fines, criminal penalties) to coerce them to stop, instead of appealing to their intellect with reason to convince them they should stop.
Strangely enough, appeals to reason and a 21 legal age are exactly how we managed to reduce teen smoking and drinking rates long before nicotine vapes existed.
Tobacco Flows West, Marijuana Flows East
Jacking up the price of cigs and vapes will be more effective on the west side of the state, since California and Washington have already jacked up their prices.
Here on the eastern side of the state, however, Measure 108 is going to create a lucrative cross-border trafficking of tobacco.
There already exists a little drive-thru tobacco shop literally 1,500 feet from the Oregon/Idaho border, the mighty Snake River, in charming little Fruitland, Idaho. It does steady, brisk business as a line of cars with Oregon plates make their purchases of tobacco that costs 46 cents less per pack, thanks to Oregon’s taxes.
Imagine their uptick in business when that difference works out to $24.60 per carton. If I were an enterprising teenager, I’d find a way to buy up as many $5 Juul pods and smoke packs in Idaho I could, take them back to my Oregon high school where I could sell them for $7–$8 apiece, and have me a nice little revenue stream.
At least the flow of taxes reaped from Eastern Oregon’s tobacco smokers replaces some of the taxes Idaho loses from the steady stream of pot smokers purchasing their marijuana in Eastern Oregon, I suppose.
Look, I’m not a tobacco smoker and I generally don’t like being around smoking or vaping. But I recognize that adults have a right to do with their bodies as they so choose and protecting children isn’t reason enough to curtail adult liberties without at least trying reasonable alternatives first.
Today it’s the smoking and vaping that are looked down on by society, given the greenlight for punitive coercive taxation. Tomorrow it’s the sugared sodas, the fast food burger, and certainly, the marijuana joint (don’t worry, it’ll never be the booze, though) that the do-gooders will tax out of the reach of poor while the rich continue to enjoy them.
Finally, if it really is about helping the children, why is it only up to the smokers to do so? Because politicians find it easier to get voters to support a tax on a reviled minority than to tax all voters, that’s why.