Thursday, March 7, 2013

CASAA sends letter to Utah committee opposing legislation

On March 6th, CASAA sent the letter below to the Utah House of Representatives Committee on Health and Human Services and issued a Call to Action to its member to oppose proposed legislation (HB372) that would increase taxes on nicotine electronic cigarette cartridges and liquids to 86% of the manufacturers price and effectively ban internet sales of electronic cigarettes in the state. The Committee voted to move HB372 out of committee by a 7-2 vote.  Many Utah citizens attended the hearing, but the majority of the committee was fervently and nonsensically opposed to harm reduction.

The bill is awaiting a full vote in the House of Representatives. CASAA has updated its Utah Call to Action and is urging members to now contact members of the Utah House of Representatives. The CASAA board will also be forwarding an amended version this letter, further addressing key points that came up during the hearing, to the full House within the next day or so.

March 6, 2013

On behalf of its Utah membership, The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA)[1] encourages the House Health and Human Services Committee to vote NO on HB 372 as it (i) would inappropriately impose punitive taxes on low-risk, smoke-free nicotine products which carry a risk that is estimated to be 1/100th of that from smoking, (ii) would cripple Utah businesses that currently sell legal products via the internet and through the U.S. mails, (iii) would unfairly and unethically limit access of adult consumers to lower-risk products, and (iv) would do far more harm than good.

I.  Section 1 of HB 372: Tax provisions are unreasonable and punitive.

Section 1 of HB 372 would redefine “tobacco product,” resulting in the  imposition of a tax of 86% of the manufacturer’s price on e-cigarettes and other smoke-free, nicotine-containing products.  This tax is unreasonable and punitive given that these smoke-free, nicotine-containing products carry a risk that is estimated to be 1/100th of that from smoking.[2]   

A 2007 report by the Royal College of Physicians noted that a large percentage of smokers may never be able to give up all use of nicotine.[3]  The practice of substituting a low-risk nicotine product for smoking is called Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR). Such low risk products include smokeless tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, and long-term use of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products.[4]  Rather than treat all tobacco products as equally dangerous, politicians and health care advocates should embrace THR. For those who are unable or unwilling to completely quit tobacco and/or nicotine use, switching to a smokeless alternative can achieve substantial health benefits, with many such products carrying less than 1% of the risk posed by smoking.

During the past several decades, millions of Swedish smokers switched to snus, a type of spit-free moist snuff. As a result, adult daily smoking (age 15 and older) has dropped to 12% for men and 17% for women, which represent reductions of 44% and 29%, respectively, between 1995 and 2008.[5]  Not coincidentally, Sweden has the lowest lung cancer mortality rate in the European Union.[6]

In a 2010 FDA workshop, Dr. Neal Benowitz reviewed the scientific evidence on the health benefits of switching to smokeless tobacco (ST) products as proof that NRT would be safe for long-term use. His presentation noted, “The lack of increase in common cancers in lifelong ST users indicates that nicotine is not a general cancer promoter,” and “studies indicate minimal if any increased CV risks (i.e., heart attacks and strokes) with ST.”[7]

Simply stated, while nicotine is arguably what keeps many smokers smoking, it is not what causes the whole host of health problems associated with smoking.  Consequently, there is absolutely no justification for treating smoke-free, nicotine-containing products exactly the same as traditional cigarettes.  

Higher prices on all smoke-free tobacco products may result in closure of Utah’s e-cigarette vendors. Adding an 86% tax to a product that already is priced far higher than cigarettes simply makes no sense. It may also result in continued smoking among those who might have switched to a lower-risk product if those lower-risk products had remained conveniently available and affordable on a local level.

CASAA urges the House Health and Human Services Committee to reject the tax provisions of HB 372 because it does not effect a just, proper, and equitable distribution of tax burdens within the state and, in fact, would do more harm than good.

II.  Section 7 of HB 372, by prohibiting online sales, will impose unreasonable hardship on Utah businesses.

Section 7 of HB 372 would prohibit any sale of e-cigarettes or other smoke-free, nicotine-containing products unless accomplished in a face-to-face, in-person sale.  This would wreak havoc on Utah vendors who sell these products via the internet in that it would impose a restriction that no other state in the U.S. has imposed.  Not only would this leave Utah vendors at a substantial market disadvantage, it would most certainly force several vendors to close their businesses.

III.  Section 7 of HB 372, by prohibiting online sales, will impose unreasonable hardship on adult consumers.

Moreover, prohibiting online sales would constitute a substantial hardship for adults located within the state who do not live or work near a retail establishment that sells e-cigarettes and/or other smoke-free, nicotine-containing products.  Given the population density of Utah, there are many adult consumers who have no option other than to purchase online.   If these consumers do not have access to these lower-risk products, many will return to smoking.

IV. HB 372 represents legislative overreaching and will do more harm than good.

For the past several years, the sponsor of this bill, Representative Paul Ray, has waged a war against nicotine that can only be described as a moral crusade.  In the process of this crusade, he has, among other things, inappropriately referred to nicotine-containing products as “nicotine candy”[8] and has used that same inappropriate and ridiculous characterization in the actual proposed legislation.  CASAA maintains that this type of characterization is irresponsible, creating the very confusion and targeting that Representative Ray claims to condemn.

The State of Utah banned the sale of e-cigarettes and nicotine-containing products to minors in 2010, and there is absolutely no evidence that tobacco or nicotine use is increasing among Utah youths.  Simply stated, there is no need to place onerous and unreasonable restrictions on adults in order to “save the children.”

For the foregoing reasons, CASAA respectfully requests that the Committee report unfavorably on HB 372 so that Utah adults continue to have access to affordable, lower-risk alternatives to smoking.

Gregory Conley, Legislative Director
The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association
CASAA - The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association

[1] CASAA is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization with a grassroots’ membership of approximately 3,000 individuals from all walks of life.  CASAA is dedicated to ensuring the availability of reduced harm alternatives to smoking and to providing smokers and non-smokers alike with honest information about those alternatives.  Since its founding in 2009, CASAA has educated the public and increased awareness about the benefits of reduced harm alternatives to smoking.  CASAA also encourages responsible legislative policy designed to improve public health by recognizing that smoke-free tobacco- and nicotine-containing products are inherently far less dangerous than smoking.

[2] Sweanor D, et. al. (2007). Tobacco harm reduction: how rational public policy could transform a pandemic. Int J Drug Policy. 2007 Mar; 18(2).

[3] Royal College of Physicians. Harm reduction in nicotine addiction: helping people who can’t quit. A report by the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians. London: RCP, 2007.

[4] Rodu B. The scientific foundation for tobacco harm reduction, 2006-2011. Harm Reduct J. 2011 Jul 29;8:19. The scientific foundation for tobacco harm reduction, 2006-2011

[5] OECD/European Union (2010), “Tobacco Consumption among Adults”, in Health at a Glance: Europe 2010, OECD Publishing. Tobacco Consumption among Adults - Health at a Glance: Europe 2010 - OECD iLibrary

[6] OECD/European Union (2010), “Mortality from Cancer”, in Health at a Glance: Europe 2010, OECD Publishing. Mortality from Cancer - Health at a Glance: Europe 2010 - OECD iLibrary

[7] Benowitz N. Smokeless Tobacco and Disease: Evidence Related to Long-term Safety of Nicotine.

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