Is the government’s suggested vape tax just as harmful as blocking the distribution of condoms?
The UK government is currently considering introducing a sin tax on vape products for the purpose of finding additional resources to fund the NHS. Theresa May’s government is looking to add an additional tax of 5% to vape products, which would directly impact the UK's 2.9 million vapers and jeopardise successes achieved through the UK’s progressive approach towards tobacco harm reduction.
The UK has a leading role in the world of tobacco harm reduction and nearly a quarter of all smokers were able to either use electronic cigarettes in order to quit smoking or reduce smoking. This is five times as much as the global average. But its leading role is not only shown by the astonishing number of vapers in the country but also by the fact that even the NHS admits that switching from traditional cigarettes to electronic cigarettes reduces the risk of cancer and other smoking-related diseases.
The UK is often called a vape nation and its embrace of harm reduction is novel in a world where most public health institutions including the World Health Organization (WHO) still actively block tobacco harm reduction. One of many examples of the WHO’s opposition to vaping is their suggestion to its members to ban indoor vaping even though there’s no evidence supporting this policy recommendation. The active opposition to safer and healthier methods of consuming nicotine reminds one of dark times when many institutions blocked the distribution of condoms and thus made HIV harm reduction harder.
Introducing a vape tax in order to realize populist promises to increase the NHS’ funding would not only be short-sighted but also counter-productive. Consumers will be harmed by making the transition to less risky products such as electronic cigarettes more expensive. Further taxing vape products ultimately makes them more expensive, which decreases the likelihood that smokers will make the switch.
It is also important to note that vapers actually reduce the fiscal burden for NHS, given that vape products are significantly less risky. The Royal College of Physicians endorses vaping as a healthier substitute to smoking and many experts second its view that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes.
A recent Gallup survey shows that especially millennials tend to switch to electronic cigarettes as a less-harmful way of consuming nicotine. Older generations are often still unaware of the health benefits of vaping. So instead of treating it as a sin and taxing it, we should actively inform smokers about the advantages of switching. This is good for smokers and public finances.
Less vapers means more smoking-related diseases the NHS will have to deal with. The tax could at the end of the day even cost significantly more than it will yield in revenues. A no-brainer that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should better drop this idea.
At the end of the day this sin tax punishes consumers who are otherwise saving the NHS money. In terms of public health, harm reduction, and consumer choice, creating a vape sin tax is a big mistake. Britain can lead as a shining beacon of tobacco harm reduction in the world. We should not lose this advantage by introducing a costly tax.