Published: Monday, February 16, 2015 at 09:32 AM.
Florida legislators are huffing and puffing about slapping a new tax on electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, an alternative to smoking that’s gaining popularity and is seen by some as a threat to the tobacco industry.
At a meeting last week of the House Finance and Tax Committee, a suggestion was made that e-cigarettes be taxed at 85 percent of the wholesale tax on regular cigarettes. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who chairs the committee, said the proposal would tax e-cigarettes just as “other nicotine distribution products” are taxed.
E-cigarettes produce a vapor from a liquid that does contain some nicotine. Inhaling and exhaling the vapor is called vaping.
Rep. Gaetz’s explanation is interesting, but we suspect e-cigarettes are being targeted as well for a simpler reason, one that Ronald Reagan voiced 29 years ago: “If it moves, tax it.”
The vaping business is moving, all right. Shannon Ikner, interviewed for a Northwest Florida Daily News story about the suggested e-cigarette tax, said he opened his first Vapor Planet in Fort Walton Beach about 18 months ago and it’s done so well he already has opened two more shops in Okaloosa County.
“Business is good,” he said, “but who knows how good it’s going to be when the government starts sticking their hands in it?”
Make no mistake: The government — not just in Florida but in other states, too — is eager to stick its hands in a small but growing part of the economy. Mr. Ikner said his vaping shops employ 15 people and he’s thinking about franchising. Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said a tax on e-cigarettes would affect “hundreds of new Florida businesses.”
Vaping helps some users break the tobacco smoking habit.
If lawmakers in Tallahassee press ahead with this latest new tax on the state’s entrepreneurs, we hope to hear a more convincing rationale than what we’ve heard so far.