Data deep dive: WV taxes on e-cigarettes are way lower than their cigarette counterpart

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FILE – In this April 16, 2019 file photo, a researcher holds vape pens in a laboratory in Portland, Ore. On Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, U.S. health officials delayed a high-stakes decision on whether to permit best selling vaping brand Juul to stay on the market, while ordering thousands of other electronic cigarettes off store shelves. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – According to a study from WalletHub.com, West Virginian smokers spend $39,236 on average per year on cigarettes and other losses related to tobacco use, putting them 12th in the nation for the highest real cost of smoking. With the highest tobacco use rates in the nation, organizations like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network have begun advocating for higher taxes on tobacco products in West Virginia.

Data source: CDC, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

Nearly a quarter of adults in West Virginia smoke cigarettes, but along with the rest of the nation, the trend is going down, according to the CDC. But high school students using e-cigarettes and vapes is still concerning for the American Cancer Society. Nearly half of West Virginia’s high schoolers report they are currently using tobacco products, according to a CDC survey, and the majority of that percentage turn to e-cigarettes. In a statement on the ACS CAN website about e-cigarettes, they write, “the use of e-cigarettes in young people has skyrocketed to epidemic proportion with nearly 30% of high school students reporting using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days and 12% reporting using an e-cigarette daily.”

ASC CAN recently released a statement asking West Virginia legislators to increase the taxes on cigarettes by $1.50 per pack with an equivalent tax on all other tobacco products. The current state tax on cigarettes, $1.20, was implemented in 2016.

“In addition to increasing revenue for public health, a significant increase in tobacco taxes would save lives and prevent thousands of kids from a lifetime of tobacco addiction,” said Kristy Young, ACS CAN Government Relations Director.

According to the Sales Tax Handbook, West Virginia’s taxes on cigarettes are about average compared to the rest of the country, ranking 31st in the nation. A $1.50 increase in cigarette taxes would put us in the top 10 highest cigarette taxes nationwide.

Meanwhile, the state tax on e-cigarettes is charged per milliliter of liquid. The current rate is seven and a half cents per milliliter. A pack of four Juul pods contains about 2.8 mL, so the state tax on a pack would equal around 21 cents for nearly four packs of cigarettes worth of nicotine.

Other states have varying ways of taxing e-cigarettes. Some charge per milliliter, like West Virginia. Some charge per wholesale price or per cartridge. 20 states in the US don’t have any taxes on e-cigarettes at all.

“Increasing tobacco taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, especially among kids, and the tobacco industry knows it,” said Taylor Hall, Senior Regional Media Advocacy Manager at ACS CAN, “Keeping tobacco taxes low, and therefore the price of tobacco products low, is one major way for Big Tobacco to protect their bottom line, addict people with cheap products, and keep them addicted.”

Nationally, the Build Back Better Act included language that would impose a federal tax on e-cigarettes and increase the federal tax on other forms of tobacco. That portion of the bill was praised by some, like the American Lung Association, but criticized by others, like the Cato Institute who argued that e-cigarettes are a “harm-reduction tool” for people who wish to quit smoking.

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