Opinion

Could Chris Christie's e-cigarette tax send his presidential hopes up in smoke?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Taxes,New Jersey,Chris Christie,Ashe Schow,FDA,E Cigarettes

What little science exists on the safety of e-cigarettes shows that they are a safer alternative to regular cigarettes. But that hasn't stopped some in government - including New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie - from proposing a tax on the cigarette alternative that would make them the same price as regular cancer sticks.

The move could hinder Christie's presidential aspirations, as nanny-state tactics are hugely unpopular - especially among conservatives.

New Jersey already bans the use of e-cigarettes in public, but the continued attacks on the industry leave some questions.

Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona extolled the virtues of e-cigarettes, noting the alternative's “extraordinary potential” to move smokers away from regular cigarettes. Carmona also warned that regulations against e-cigarettes like the public-smoking ban could “significantly hinder” the alternative from being used as an anti-smoking aid.

(Note: Carmona sits on the board of directors of Njoy, the largest e-cigarette company, which also, naturally, aims to end the use of traditional cigarettes.)

Dr. Gilbert Ross, medical and executive director of the American Council on Science and Health, also derided efforts to curb the use of e-cigarettes.

Because, as much as the patch and nicotine gums are not cigarettes, neither are e-cigarettes.

My colleague Tim Carney noted in November that the move to “clamp down” on e-cigarettes comes more from Big Pharma and its lobbying prowess than anywhere else. See, the pharmaceutical companies don't like anti-smoking competition, so they want to eliminate e-cigarettes before they can really compete with products like the patch or Nicorette gum.

The National Association of Tobacco Outlets said localities should wait and see what the Food and Drug Administration said of e-cigarettes before creating regulations. It stands to reason that taxing e-cigarettes as though they are as dangerous as traditional cigarettes should wait as well.

But New Jersey has ignored the above, so it may be safe to assume that Christie isn’t interested in the merits of e-cigarettes versus conventional cigarettes.

So how is Christie going to explain this kind of policy in a conservative primary? Conservatives already mistrust him as a gun-grabber, but now he wants to be a tax-raiser, too?

Given the increasingly libertarian tenor of the conservative movement, and the fact that nanny-state government is so unpopular, being on record in favor of a sin tax doesn’t bode well for higher aspirations.

Full disclosure: I assisted in New Jersey campaigns in 2009 for candidates that were down-ticket from Chris Christie, and as such I handed out his literature and included his name in phone calls when campaigning for other candidates.

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