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Chicago Medical Society Keeps Heat on City Council for E-cigarette Tax

In the lead-up to the historic budget vote, Dr. Kathy Tynus, President of the Chicago Medical Society, met with Ald. Edward Burke, Finance Committee Chair, and Pro Tempore Ald. Margaret Laurino, urging them to protect young constituents by advocating for a two-tiered tax on e-cigarettes.

“Our physician community is well aware that e-cigarettes now surpass conventional cigarettes in popularity. As overall smoking rates continue to decline, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014,” said Dr. Tynus, citing statistics from the CDC and the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

Dr. Tynus, an internal medicine physician, explains that the proposed tax on e-cigarette liquid has two critical components: $1.25 per container (unit tax) and $0.25 per mL (volume tax). This two-tiered approach is the right one for Chicago, allowing us to price these harmful products out of the reach of adolescents.

She notes that growing evidence suggests they may also be a gateway to traditional cigarette use.

“We have a responsibility to keep youth from taking up the habit, and a steep tax is our best tool to provide that deterrent. Yet the tax must not be so high that consumers switch back to traditional cigarettes. Our tax will significantly increase the price of e-cigarette liquid without matching the current $7.17 total tax on cigarette packs. It strikes the right balance to protect health,” Dr. Tynus said.

E-cigarette liquid is sold in a variety of forms. It can be in disposable e-cigarettes, replaceable cartridges, or large bottles—all priced differently. The two-tiered tax is structured to affect these different products relatively evenly and avoid distorting the market.

Large tobacco companies are lobbying for a volume tax alone, Dr. Tynus explains. They prefer this approach because it minimizes the impact of the taxes on disposable and replaceable cartridge e-cigarettes (which tobacco companies manufacture) and more adversely affects independent companies that sell large e-liquid bottles. The proposed tax is a balanced approach that affects independent vape shop owners and convenience shops owners evenly and targets established e–cigarette users and those who are just experimenting with e-cigarettes, including youth, in an equitable manner without pushing them back to traditional cigarettes.

“We must employ the same strategies used against combustible tobacco products, where we know that taxes have had a deterrent effect,” Dr. Tynus said.

“The Chicago Medical Society recently adopted policy calling for excise taxes on all tobacco products and electronic nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes. Our platform supports a combination of price increases, media outreach, cessation treatment, patient education, laws, and strong enforcement to prevent marketing and sales to youth,” she said.

“Our organization also was the point of origin for bans on e-cigarettes in public indoor places. This came several years after we worked for a stringent statewide smoking ban in public venues.

The Chicago Medical Society’s legacy of promoting public health and wellness in the community goes back to 1850, the year of its founding.

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