The Real Reason California Wants to Ban Online Tobacco and E-Cig Sales
In California, the debate is heating up over whether electronic cigarettes should be available for purchase online. Assemblyman Roger Dickinson is heading up the campaign to ban online e-cig sales, claiming that it’s in the best interest of kids to prevent them from accessing vaping products through the computer. He is trying to push through a new bill that would make it illegal for state vapers to buy their e-cigs on the Internet, but does his motive even make sense?
Dickinson told reporters that online sales were dangerous for young people. “Internet sales of tobacco products, we know, pose a serious threat to the health and safety of children because there’s literally no verification of age when products of tobacco are purchased through the Internet,” he said.
While his intentions seem noble at first glance, it’s also important to realize that the state would glean $24 million in additional tax revenue by restricting tobacco sales to brick and mortar establishments. That could muddy the waters. Then there is the problem with lumping e-cigarettes in with tobacco products because electronic cigarettes are actually tobacco-free. Why would they need the same restrictions?
Furthermore, it’s hard to know whether online sales really pose a threat to children. In reality, how many kids are buying e-cigarettes online? To make an online purchase, the buyer would need to pay with a credit card. In order to legally obtain a credit card in the United States, you must be 18 years old, which incidentally is also the legal age to buy tobacco products. While some minors could have access to a parent’s credit card or even have their own card with a co-signed account, the parents would have access to purchase records and be able to easily see that their kids are buying e-cigs online. It seems that the problem with online sales is more about parenting than about legislation.
The debate over online tobacco sales is not a new issue. In fact, in 2010 the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act made it difficult to buy cigarettes online or through the mail. Age verification was required during the purchase and again on delivery. Still, there are some people that prefer to shop online and tobacco products are no exception.
However, basing the new bill purely on preventing sales to minors seems like a stretch. A 2002 study found that only 1.4% of teenage smokers bought their last pack of cigarettes on the Internet. With the percentage of vapers being much smaller than the percentage of smokers, it looks like only a tiny fragment of teens are buying their e-cigs online.
Assemblyman Dickenson might claim that this new bill is all about protecting today’s young people from the dangers of tobacco use, but the reality is that the bill is more likely about increasing tax revenue. People buy products online because it gives them a loop hole to escape some of the extremely high taxes that drive up prices on cigarettes and e-cigs. By banning online sales, California has a lot to gain in the way of revenue.
Of course, we could never expect a politician to actually admit to the real motive, right? After all, that’s just not how politics works in the United States.
What do you think… is this new online ban more about increasing tax revenue or is it really out of concern for today’s youth?