Field Poll shows support for taxing e-cigarettes

Recent Field Poll results released in November showed strong support for taxing and regulating electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), a key component of the 2016 ballot measure submitted by the Save Lives California coalition, of which CDA is a member, that will prevent smoking.

Almost three in four California voters (74 percent) favor taxing e-cigarettes and vaping products. A sizeable majority of Californians correctly views e-cigarettes as a danger to public health and 71 percent believe that e-cigarettes contribute to teens becoming addicted to tobacco.

The Field Poll also found that significant majorities of Californians are in favor of regulating "vape shops" like other tobacco retailers and prohibiting e-cigarette usage in places where smoking is not allowed. Nearly three in five voters (57 percent) want to ban flavored e-cigarettes to reduce their appeal to teens.

The e-cigarette findings follow Field Poll results from August that found 67 percent of voters in support of a $2 increase in the state's tobacco tax, as proposed in the Save Lives California coalition's ballot measure. Nevertheless, the coalition is preparing for a very competitive campaign as big tobacco companies are expected to spend considerable resources trying to defeat the measure.

In October, the coalition filed its final version of the ballot measure for the November 2016 election, which will tax e-cigarettes for the first time as a part of the $2 tax increase on all tobacco products. Research shows that youth are particularly price sensitive, and with 16,000 California teens becoming addicted to smoking every year, raising the price of these products is an essential step in preventing teen addiction.  

E-cigarettes work by heating up liquid nicotine, the neurotoxin derived from tobacco that is as addictive as cocaine, producing a vapor that users inhale. They carry a variety of health risks for users and those around them. E-cigarette aerosol contains formaldehyde and lead, as well as at least 10 toxic chemicals on California's Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects.

These often candy-flavored products put teens and others at risk of developing a deadly, lifelong addiction to nicotine. The federal government banned flavored cigarettes (other than menthol) in 2009 because they were popular with teens, but now e-cigarette companies are marketing to teens with flavors like bubblegum and cotton candy.

The statistics show the negative impact e-cigarettes are having on teens. E-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more than a quarter of a million youth who had never smoked a cigarette used electronic cigarettes in 2013. Ninth graders who use e-cigarettes are eight times more likely to later smoke traditional cigarettes than their peers who have never tried e-cigarettes.

Carolyn Brown, DDS, is a researcher currently studying the growing trend of vaping and e-cigarettes from the perspective of a dental professional. Brown has practiced dentistry nearly 15 years and has worked in California community clinics where she has seen the negative impacts of tobacco firsthand.

"The nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive and can be a gateway to cigarettes or even drug use, vaping dries out the mouth, it is toxic at high doses or if ingested and it can be particularly harmful for people with pulmonary conditions or pregnant women and children," Brown said.

The effort to curb e-cigarette use and tobacco use in general has widespread support from national organizations that have called for approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) proposal to regulate e-cigarettes. A coalition including ADA states, "In the absence of regulation, we have seen irresponsible marketing of unregulated products such as cigars and electronic cigarettes, often using tactics and sweet flavors that clearly appeal to youth. It's no wonder use of e-cigarettes by youth has skyrocketed. This process has already taken far too long. We cannot afford more delays that allow tobacco companies to target our kids with a new generation of tobacco products."

Every large tobacco company owns at least one e-cigarette brand and analysts predict that e-cigarette use could surpass regular cigarette use within the next 10 years, and that large tobacco companies are estimated to share 75 percent of this profit pool by then.

The $2-per-pack tax increase proposed by the Save Lives California coalition will reduce smoking and raise approximately $1.5 billion that will help offset the more than $3.5 billion in taxpayer dollars annually used to treat Medi-Cal patients with tobacco-related illnesses and other diseases. California once led the nation in curbing tobacco use, but the state's current tax of 87 cents per pack has fallen to 35th among the 50 states. All but one state in the country has raised their cigarette tax since California's last hike in 1998.

"There is a direct correlation between a person's oral health and overall health and tobacco of any kind has a tremendous negative affect on the teeth and gums," said CDA President Ken Wallis, DDS. "This is why CDA is part of the Save Lives California coalition and is looking to bring change in the state through this initiative."

The ballot measure also dedicates $30 million of the revenue annually to the Department of Public Health specifically for the state dental plan and oral health programs overseen by the dental director. This would provide an unprecedented dedicated funding source for oral health programs in California.   

Studies from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that 90 percent of smokers start as teens. Tobacco-related deaths are the single most preventable cause of death in the state, claiming more than 40,000 lives per year — more than car accidents, suicide, alcohol, illegal drugs and AIDS combined. In addition to increased risk of cancer, tobacco use contributes to tooth decay, gum disease and tooth discoloration, and is costing the overall health care system in California more than $13 billion annually in medical expenses.

CDA will keep members informed on these efforts in the CDA Update and on cda.org.

Related Items

The Save Lives California coalition, which CDA is part of, has filed its final version of a ballot measure for the November 2016 election to raise the state’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack. The coalition had committed to pursuing a ballot measure if the Legislature was unable to pass legislation this summer, and with no legislative action at the end of this year’s session, the coalition is moving ahead with a ballot measure campaign.

CDA and the Save Lives California coalition are encouraging supporters to sign an online petition urging the state Legislature to raise the state's tobacco tax and have launched a statewide digital advertising campaign to mobilize support for the effort.