There's a reason that vape was the Oxford English Dictionaries' Word of the Year.
There is a lot of buzz about the newest tobacco delivery system.
In Kentucky, the Farm Bureau is talking about a tax on e-cigarettes, a Lexington researcher is trying to see whether they can really help people quit, and the Urban County Government has added e-cigarettes to its indoor smoking ban.
It's all part of the vaping trend — in which users inhale and exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device — that is causing a global stir.
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The use of e-cigarettes and vaping equipment has been debated from Lexington, where the Urban County Council banned indoor vaping in November; to New York City, where indoor vaping bans sparked protest; to London, England, where the opening of the first shops set off a debate about the health effects of e-cigarettes.
The use of electronic cigarettes is expected to exceed the use of traditional, combustible cigarettes within the decade, according to Bonnie Herzog, managing director for tobacco research for Wells Fargo Securities, which is following the industry. As vaping spreads, so do the questions about when and how e-cigarettes should be sold and used.
Pushing for equal taxation
The Kentucky Farm Bureau is discussing pursuing a tax on e-cigarettes similar to the 60-cent tax on a pack of regular cigarettes, director of public relations Jeff Harper said.
The Farm Bureau previously supported a law creating penalties for minors found with e-cigarettes and the stores that sell the products to minors. It was signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear in April.
Combustible cigarettes and vaporized cigarettes should be "treated equally" as far as taxes, he said.
There are issues to be worked out, he said. For example, do you tax the liquid that produces the vapor or the device that uses the liquid?
He said Minnesota already had made that decision. Single use e-cigarettes and liquid that contains tobacco are taxed at a rate of 95 percent of the wholesale cost. Reusable devices and liquid without tobacco are not taxed.
"It is a challenge to come up with a fair and equitable way," Harper said.
Scott White, chairman of the Lexington-Fayette County Board of Health, said that letting the public know about the health consequences of e-cigarettes, combined with increasing taxes, is the way to keep the vaping trend from growing.
"We know that increasing taxes on tobacco is a motivating factor for folks to quit. Hopefully, this will have a similar impact on folks who have become dependent on nicotine vaping devices," he said, adding that he hoped the Farm Bureau would continue to explore taxing e-cigarettes.
Dr. James Borders, a principal investigator at Central Kentucky Research Associates, recently has found himself in the position of telling test subjects there are no safe tobacco products but asking them to vape anyway.
Borders is conducting research sponsored by e-cigarette manufacturer Altera on 270 people. The goal, he said, is to see whether e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking traditional cigarettes.
Borders, who has never smoked and whose father died of smoking-related health issues, said he was telling every study participant that quitting altogether was the best thing for their health.
"We are not aiding and abetting" smoking, he said. Instead, the research will help determine whether there are any benefits to career smokers who have tried to quit a number of other ways.
And, he said, because Kentucky has the highest rate of adult smokers in the country, it is worth investigating a way that might help people quit.
Continued growth likely
With Big Tobacco companies getting into the vaping business, the practice is likely to continue to grow, said Richard Smith, spokesman for Reynolds Vapor Co., a part of tobacco giant Reynolds American.
Reynolds created its product from the ground up, said Smith. Some other big tobacco companies bought existing e-cigarette companies, although not all are invested in e-cigarettes, Herzog said.
It's been a lucrative addition for Reynolds. The company reported a 9 percent boost in net income following the test marketing of its e-cigarette, VUSE, in Colorado and Utah. Smith said that as more people use e-cigarettes, there will be increased pressure to allow their use in public.
"They should not just be lumped into smoking bans" because that might discourage traditional smokers from switching to a safer alternative, Herzog said.
"It's just creating one more barrier to switching," he said. "Where is the incentive?"
Vaping, Herzog said, "is transforming tobacco."
But, he said, "we make no health claims with the product. There is no safe tobacco product. We want to be quite clear about that so adult tobacco consumers can make an informed decision."