SFATA PRESIDENT SENDS LETTER TO CALIFORNIA’S ATTORNEY GENERAL HARRIS SEEKING CLARIFICATION ON PROPOSED 2016 BALLOT INITIATIVE

Says Initiative Is Flawed, Misleading to Voters; Urges Attorney General to Consider Impact on Vapor Products Before Final Title and Summary are Granted

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 9, 2015 — Cynthia Cabrera, president of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA), has sent a letter to California’s Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, offering commentary on “California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016,” a proposed ballot initiative that attempts to classify vapor products as tobacco products, while extending new cigarette “sin” taxes to this growing category.

“The language of the submitted initiative is misleading to voters by falsely implying that the harmful health effects of tobacco are similar to those of vapor products,” Cabrera points out in her letter to Harris before a final title and summary are granted. “Studies have shown that vapor products are considered a minimum of 95 percent less harmful than combusted tobacco and do not present a risk of exposure to the toxic combustion compounds found in cigarettes. This important information is not accurately included in the current initiative.

“The reality is that vapor products are not tobacco products and do not contain tobacco. Egregiously misclassifying vapor products like tobacco products undermines efforts by cigarette smokers to find helpful alternatives and injures the public by withholding vital information about the actual potential vapor products have to save lives,” Cabrera wrote.

SFATA recently met with members of the California legislature to discuss vapor products as significant alternatives to combustible tobacco and currently is arranging an in-person meeting with Attorney General Harris. Below is a copy of the full letter to Harris that was officially received on November 6, 2015:

November 6, 2015

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris
Office of the Attorney General
1300 I Street, Ste. 1740, P .0. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Title and Summary for California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016

Dear Attorney General Harris:

On behalf of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA), we are providing comments on the proposed ballot initiative, “California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016.” SFATA is comprised of responsible business owners who are committed to ensuring a path for the continued innovation of products that researchers worldwide have agreed could eliminate the public health hazards caused by use of combustible tobacco cigarettes.

We have carefully reviewed the ballot initiative and respectfully submit for your consideration, comments on the proposal’s language before a final title and summary are granted. 

  • The title in the submitted initiative fails to mention the impact the initiative will have on vapor and electronic cigarette products, which is misleading to voters and consumers.
  • The language of the submitted initiative is misleading to voters by falsely implying that the harmful health effects of tobacco are similar to those of vapor products. Studies have shown that vapor products are considered a minimum of 95 percent less harmful than combusted tobacco and do not present a risk of exposure to the toxic combustion compounds found in cigarettes. This important information is not accurately included in the current initiative.
  • The measure’s direction to the Board of Equalization to tax vapor products equivalent to the taxes levied on tobacco cigarettes is fundamentally flawed because (1) it overlooks the potential vapor products have to drive down the cost of death and disease caused by combusted cigarette use; and (2) the death and disease caused by tobacco products is due to the fact that carcinogenic chemicals are created through the process of combustion and vapor products by definition do not combust and therefore do not create the 4,000+ carcinogenic chemicals created when a tobacco cigarette is smoked.
  • The ballot initiative seeks to classify vapor products as tobacco products despite the fact that it is scientifically impossible to create an equivalent between the risk posed by combusted tobacco cigarettes and that posed by vapor products because the chemical makeup of the products is entirely different.
  • The reality is that vapor products are not tobacco products and do not contain tobacco.

Additionally, the ballot initiative authors do not present a clear method demonstrating how they would accurately tax vapor products. The hundred mills {$0.100} for each cigarette distributed or $2 per pack tobacco tax cannot apply to vapor products, simply because vapor products are not combustible cigarettes and the fundamentally different nature of vapor products vs. combusted cigarettes makes it impossible to establish equivalency.

This also includes other proposed taxes such a floor stock tax for each cigarette (at the rate of one hundred mills [$0.100] for each cigarette) and a cigarette indicia adjustment tax (for each California cigarette tax stamp at rates of $2.50, $2 and $1). The proposal also fails to account for the fact that vapor products are available in a variety of nicotine levels and in many cases contain no nicotine whatsoever.

Vapor products, primarily comprised of metal and electronic circuitry that use heat from a battery to vaporize e-liquids, are significantly different than combustible cigarettes, which rely on combustion to burn tobacco.

This initiative also fails to mention the potential impact on vapor businesses, if vapor products are classified as tobacco products. Under the state’s current tobacco license, for example, flavored cigarettes cannot be sold. This would mean an end to flavored e-liquids, which research shows are highly effective at keeping adult vapers from returning to smoking. Further, characterizing flavors are the lifeblood of the vapor industry. Beyond that, the misclassification of vapor products as tobacco would injure thousands of vapor business located in California and would subject them to additional negative consequences because many public and private entities place prohibitions on doing business with tobacco companies. These include denied work compensation insurance, denied liability insurance, and being forced out of financial institutions and merchant service agreements.

Many studies have shown that vapor products represent a significant alternative to combustible tobacco cigarettes, which for many smokers in California, and millions across the country, has provided their only successful alternative to reduce or eliminate their habit of smoking cigarettes. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged that vapor products can be a viable option to help smokers who are otherwise unable or unwilling to quit.

Lowering the number of cigarette smokers would help reduce California’s annual $18 billion burden in economic and health care costs attributable to combusted cigarettes. Forty-five percent of California smokers receive Medicaid; offering the potential for greater cost savings among those Medicaid patients as fewer of them smoke because they have turned to vapor products.

It is vital California voters have a clear understanding of the serious and negative ramifications within this ballot initiative and that they understand the stark differences between vapor products and combusted cigarettes. This ballot initiative calls for a tax on tobacco products and attempts to equate vapor products with combustible cigarettes so that they can be taxed the same.

Proponents of this ballot initiative say not taxing e-cigs and vapor products make them more attractive, especially to young people, and that candy flavors appeal to youth. The authors egregiously cite that the fastest growing age range for electronic cigarettes is middle school and high school students, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is simply not true.

While data from CDC show a rise in the use of e-cigs and hookahs among middle and high school students, the survey also revealed no decline in overall tobacco use between 2011 and 2014, which means minors are still trying many different products. Further, 98 percent of the students surveyed were already (combusted) tobacco product users – confirming little initiation by non-smokers. For the teens that continue to experiment, it is vital that parents and guardians talk to their children about not using any age-restricted product.

We are adamantly opposed to minors using vapor products and fully support age-restrictions on their use as well as child-resistant packaging. Vapor products are intended only for adult smokers and adult vapers. Actually, research shows that the average vaper is 39 years old and the overwhelming majority of vapers are former smokers.

Coincidentally, a recent study published in the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information found that sweet and dessert type vapor flavors appealed far more to adults than non-smoking teens. Many other studies confirm that the variance in flavors were “very important” in people’s efforts to switch to e-cigs.

We believe the vapor debate should focus on getting adult smokers to make the switch to vaping, rather than on punishing an industry that provides thousands of new jobs throughout the state, millions of dollars in revenue, and most importantly, the potential to positively impact the lives of California’s nearly 4 million smokers.

Egregiously misclassifying vapor products like tobacco products undermines efforts by cigarette smokers to find a helpful alternative with which to quit smoking and injures the public by withholding vital information about the actual potential vapor products have to save lives. Public Health England recently confirmed vapor products like electronic cigarettes are at least 95 percent less harmful than combusted cigarettes and have made them available at all their quit smoking clinics.

We encourage you to see our attached presentation with supporting scientific research that helps clarify many of the misconceptions about vaping. We also are in the process of setting up a meeting with your office to discuss this ballot initiative.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

cabrera graphic

Cynthia Cabrera
President
SFATA

Cc: Ashley Johansson, Initiative Coordinator