North Dakota Passes Bill Classifying E-Cigarettes as Non-Tobacco Products
In a disarmingly rational decision, lawmakers in North Dakota have passed a bill that both bans the sale and use of e-cigarettes by minors and classifies e-cigarettes as a non-tobacco product. The move was criticized as a “stealth” method of preventing future taxation of e-cigarettes, and others worried that it sends the wrong message to children (because someone is always worried about that), but in the end common sense won out. Instead, they passed another bill classifying e-cigarettes as “nicotine devices.”
The Bill: No Vaping for Minors, But E-Cigarettes Aren’t Tobacco
There were actually three bills under discussion, all relating to e-cigarette use by minors. Two were in pretty much direct competition, either labeling e-cigarettes as tobacco products or as nicotine devices, but both had the effect of banning sales to minors. Rep. Kim Koppelman was the lead sponsor for the “nicotine device” bill, and made the argument anybody would make for e-cigarettes not being tobacco products: there is no tobacco in them. He also argued that attempts to define them as such were “back-door” ways to tax e-cigarettes, while opponents called his plan a “stealth” method of avoiding tax.
Koppelman said, “This bill is not about taxation. It’s not about regulation,” and then called youth vaping an “epidemic” that needed to be tackled. Aside from the spurious use of the word “epidemic,” he’s pretty much right on the money. Nobody is really against banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors – although it would obviously be better than them smoking.
The bill bans the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and makes it illegal for minors to possess or use them, but it was still criticized as sending the message to youth that e-cigarettes weren’t as bad as cigarettes (in other words: the truth). In the end, it was passed in a 71-20 vote, and the bill classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products was tossed out. The final bill was passed, and provides a definition of a “nicotine device” as well as weaving the term into various existing laws.
Rejecting Increased Tax on Cigarettes
When the e-cigarette bills were being considered, lawmakers also decided against an increase in cigarette tax. The plan was to raise the current 44-cent tax by $1.10, bringing it up to the national average. This might not be directly relevant to most vapers, but the arguments made in opposition of the move were the sort of thing we want to hear from politicians when discussing these issues:
Rep. Rick Becker hit the nail on the head, “It is not our job to raise taxes to try and mold people’s behavior to what we think is a better and more healthy lifestyle.”
Rep. Vicki Steiner, a member of a committee that recommended not passing the bill asked, “Why would we increase a tax on our people simply because they have an addiction?” and pointed out that the bill will unduly impact low-income smokers.
Last Friday’s decision is a positive development for vapers, but in the absence of a widespread decision to do exactly the same thing around the country, it looks like the “tobacco product” definition is going to stick. Calling e-cigs “tobacco products” makes it easy to slot them into existing laws, but this decision shows that such a simple move (give them a new name and define it) could help to spare e-cigarettes unduly high taxes and harsh restrictions – or at least throw up roadblocks to instituting them. We know e-cigarettes are going to be taxed in more and more places, and everybody favors banning use by minors, but it’s good to see a state reject the thoroughly unfair “tobacco product” definition and all the baggage that comes with it.