THE demise of widespread cigarette use is one of the great public-health successes of the last century.
Since then-U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry 50 years ago released a definitive report on the dreadful harm of cigarettes, national smoking rates plunged from 42 percent to 18 percent. For the demographic most coveted by Big Tobacco — teenagers — daily cigarette usage is one-third of the peak rate in 1976.
But a similar wake-up call is needed for nicotine’s sneaky new attack: E-cigarettes are suddenly the cool kid on campus, with candy flavors, low prices and the trendy nickname of “vaping.”
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that e-cigarette use among high schoolers nationwide more than doubled 10 percent between 2011 and 2012, with many skipping right past traditional cigarettes. A King County Public Health survey found that 12 percent of high school seniors smoked cigarettes, while 5 percent smoked e-cigarettes.
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A national prevention strategy is badly needed, to bat back marketing such as the sexy e-cigarette ad in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.
But acting locally first, a bill in the state Legislature is smartly proposing to extend existing tobacco sin taxes to e-cigarettes.
This idea, proposed by state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, and Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, is a no-brainer. Nicotine is equally addictive regardless of the delivery device. Tobacco taxes recognize the public cost of addiction.
It is also a no-brainer because tobacco use is price sensitive; cost affects demand. Currently, e-cigarettes are taxed as retail sales. $8 can buy one pack of cigarettes or about five packs worth of e-cigarette liquid. No wonder this is hot with the kids: It’s a cheap buzz.
Adults claim e-cigarettes are healthier than cigarettes, and should get a tax break. That’s like arguing a cheeseburger is more healthful than a double cheeseburger. As long as taxpayers are helping pay the tab for an addictive vice, users should pay for the sin.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).