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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Taxes & Vaping (part 1)

 Below is the testimony I submitted to the Mn House of Representatives Tax Committee on 4/20/2015. 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Tax Committee,

Today I am reaching out to you as a Mom, a daughter, a wife, and a granddaughter. I am not an officer of any Vaping Advocacy group, Vaping trade association, or a business owner in the industry.

I am VERY concerned about the proposed new tax on the e-liquids used by the vaping industry. The amendment to HF848, specifically Article 7, Sections 4 – 6 and 8-12 is terrible for Minnesota vapers, terrible for Minnesota small businesses and would provide a major advantage to products offered by companies like R.J. Reynolds, Altria and Lorillard (aka “Big Tobacco”).

My Grandpa died from heart failure caused by years of smoking. My Grandma died from cancer after years of breathing second hand smoke. The next victim in my family of the tobacco industry was my Mom. I sat with her as I heard the last breath leave her body. She died from heart failure AND cancer - after smoking her whole adult life. For the past 5 years I have watched my husband get more and more depressed as his daily activities are limited because he struggles to breath from COPD, caused by years of smoking. My 29 year old son almost died last year, another smoking victim from a 2 pack a day smoking habit. All of what family I have left have now quit smoking, thanks to vaping.

I am TIRED. I am tired of losing my loved ones too soon because of smoking. I am tired of cutting short family activities and holidays or cancelling them all together because of peoples health issues caused by smoking. I am tired of taking time away from my family so I can fight unfair state, county, and city laws that limit or prohibit peoples ability to vape.

Last night I listened to the online recording of the testimony from last weeks informational hearing before the House Tax Committee. I find it frustrating that time for testimony was so limited when this issue is so important to the citizens and businesses of Minnesota. A decision that effects so many people should be given more time to be researched and discussed. I do not believe that we should be hasty in burdening people with additional taxes without doing due diligence in making sure we are making the right choice for the people of our state.

I’d like to touch on a couple of points made by people who supported the new tax at last week’s hearing. I have to be suspicious of bringing in heavy hitters from out of state to speak in favor of a tax that effects the people of our state! I ponder what their motivation is, to be so concerned about our citizens?
Mr. Ampolini came from out east. He is the President of RJ Reynolds Vapor Company. He has had a long and successful career working for Big Tobacco. He and other big tobacco companies manufacture the closed type of systems of e-cigs. The kind with cartridges that the consumer has no control of. Their products look like a cigarette, taste like a cigarette, are held like a cigarette, and mimic smoking a cigarette. As an ex-smoker, many vapers do not want anything to do with these types of products. They are too much like a cigarette. The taste and feel of them are no longer appealing to us. Mr. Ampolini led the members of the Committee to believe that this tax is needed to make the taxes on his closed system equitable to the open type of systems sold by vape shops and used by most vaping consumers. This is like comparing apples to oranges. He appeared very knowledgeable about closed systems, but his facts on open systems was lacking and the information he presented to the committee was inaccurate. He claimed that at 30 milliliter bottle of e-liquid would last the consumer 60 days, because he used the amount of e-liquid used in his product and assumed the same amount would be used by any vaping product. This is NOT true. A 30 mil bottle of e-liquid lasts the average consumer 2-7 days, not 60 days. Add an additional $9.00 to a bottle of e-liquid and you are putting vaping back in the category of being as expensive or more expensive than smoking combustible cigarettes. Being as many people turn to e-cigs to quit smoking based on health AND financial motivation, increasing the cost of vaping takes away the motivation for smokers to quit for financial reasons. Less people quitting is returning many families back to dealing with the health issues of smoking and second hand smoke. Mr.Apolini said that a merchant can buy a gallon of e-liquid for $150 and turn it into a $10,000 profit. I don’t have a clue where he got his numbers from, but after talking to several Minnesota vape shops, not a one of them could give me a number even close to that. I know if I could make that kind of money, I’d be the next person jumping on the small business band wagon and opening my own vape shop. WOW, what an amazing profit margin that would be!!!!!!

Allen Smith of Ohio also paid our state a visit to speak in favor of this increase in taxes for Minnesota citizens. He gave some excellent points about harm reduction, and vaping being better than smoking. He felt that taxing e-liquid at a rate less than traditional tobacco products would be a good thing. And it would be IF it lowered the cost of e-liquids, not raised them. This tax raises the cost for the type of product used by the majority of vapers in Minnesota, as most Minnesotans don’t use they type of systems that would see a decrease in tax.

The other speaker in favor of the tax was from the Minnesota Wholesalers Marketing Association. He felt this new tax would help the businesses he represents sell more product, as many of them sell the closed systems made by big tobacco. Why do we want to sell more of the products made by big tobacco? The folks who have cost the people of our country billions of dollars in health care and funeral costs? I do not believe that if big tobacco had their tax lowered, they would pass those cost savings on to their consumers who are already used to paying the current tax. Big tobacco could keep the cost the same, pay less tax and increase their profit margins. I think the gentleman from this association should do a little research. It is not the cost of the systems from big tobacco that chases consumers away, it is the product that doesn’t appeal to many vaping consumers. Consumers prefer the open systems, sold to them by small businesses all over the state. They prefer to use e-liquid made by Minnesota manufacturers.

Lets keep Minnesotans employed. Lets support Minnesota businesses. Lets continue to keep vaping affordable so more Minnesotans quit smoking and lead a healthier lifestyle. Lets be a leader on this and set an example for the rest of the country! Supporting Big Tobacco and helping them make more money is NOT Minnesota’s responsibility. Taking care of our own is our responsibility!

I want to stop being tired. I don’t want to loose any more family to smoking. I don’t want to worry about unfair taxes. If I have to be tired, I want to be tired because I’ve had a wonderful day with my family, because I did something to improve education, because I’ve helped a homeless person find a home, because I made the trip across town to support a Minnesota business.

Please vote NO to the amendment to HF848, specifically Article 7, Sections 4 – 6 and 8-12, it’s a mistake to do this to Minnesota and its citizens!

I Vape and I Vote - and I'm proud to be the newest NON-SMOKER in my family!!!!!

(Click here to read what happened AFTER 40 people testified AGAINST the tax)

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