Democrats’ Build Back Better bill will drive people to smoke, public health experts say

Democrats’ Build Back Better bill will drive people to smoke, public health experts say

The Democrats’ “Build Back Better spending bill includes an e-cigarette tax that some health experts worry could drive people back to cigarette smoking,” notes Jennifer Maloney of the Wall Street Journal.

“House Democrats are poised to vote on imposing a new federal excise tax on e-cigarettes—but without a tax increase on traditional cigarettes—leading some public health experts to warn that the provision could push vapers back to smoking,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “The provision is part of the latest version of the party’s social-spending and climate bill that could pass as soon as next week. It aces an uncertain path ahead given opposition in the Senate.”

The bill’s “nicotine tax would apply to e-cigarettes, vaping liquids and oral nicotine pouches. It wouldn’t apply to nicotine gums [or] patches….The nicotine tax provision represents an agreement among the House, Senate and White House, but concerns expressed by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D., Nev.) and Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) could result in its exclusion from a final agreement.”

E-cigarettes save lives by weaning many smokers (like my wife) off of cigarettes. If people switch from e-cigarettes to regular cigarettes, that will cost many lives, because cigarettes cause cancer, unlike e-cigarettes. Rising cigarette consumption will also enrich the powerful trial lawyers who bankroll Democratic politicians. Payments to trial lawyers under the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement are based on total cigarette sales in the country.

“E-cigarettes could replace much or most of cigarette consumption in the U.S. ” said William T. Godshall, Smokefree Pennsylvania’s executive director. His group had campaigned in the past for smoke-free public vicinities, higher cigarette taxes, and cigarette pack graphic warnings. They are vastly safer than tobacco cigarettes, he said, and are overwhelmingly used by smokers to quit smoking, rather than being used by people who never smoked. Godshall rated e-cigarettes a 2 or lower on a scale of harm ranging 1 to 100, where cigarettes are 100.

When smokers switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes, that reduces cancer deaths. But it also leaves greedy lawyers and state governments with less cigarette revenue.

In 1998, the big tobacco companies entered into the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement with state governments and the lawyers they hired to sue the tobacco companies. The states and some of their lawyers receive payments based on the number of cigarettes the tobacco companies sell. So every time a smoker quits, lawyers and states end up with less money. These lawyers are very powerful and influential, and have close political ties to progressive state attorneys general.

The American Bar Association Journal estimated the value of the tobacco settlement as $246 billion to the states, and $15 billion to the lawyers they hired. Economists like Stanford University’s Jeremy Bulow concluded that virtually the entire cost of the settlement is paid for by America’s smokers, even though the lawsuits that led to the settlement claimed that smokers were the victims of fraudulent health claims by the biggest tobacco companies.

Restrictions on e-cigarettes drive people back to smoking cigarettes, which are more harmful to their health, notes Jacob Grier in Reason Magazine. “Research” suggests “a ban on flavored e-cigarettes in San Francisco…increased the use of combustible tobacco among teens.” And “e-cigarette taxes likely push many kids to smoke (far more dangerous) cigarettes,” says economist Scott Lincicome, citing a National Bureau of Economic Research paper. It noted that e-cigarette sales lead to “reduced cigarette use,” while e-cigarette taxes “significantly increase cigarette use.” Taxes on vaping are bad, in light of “evidence suggesting smoking is substantially more dangerous than” vaping e-cigarettes.

As Grier points out, “the best available evidence suggests that vaping is far safer than smoking cigarettes, that it is more effective than nicotine patches or gums at helping smokers quit, and that the health benefits of encouraging smokers to switch outweigh the harms of vaping.” Research shows that “widespread switching from smoking to vaping would prevent between 1.6 million and 6.6 million premature deaths by 2100.”

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at


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