Politics

A Louisville state representative wants to tax electronic cigarette equipment and the liquid nicotine that the devices turn into smokeable vapor.

State Rep. Larry Clark, a Democrat from Louisville, proposed the same bill last year but it was never heard in committee. The legislation would tax electronic cigarette equipment at 15 percent of the wholesale cost, generating between $6 million and $8 million in revenue per year for the state, according to the bill’s fiscal note from last year.

Clark said he’s introducing the bill not for its revenue potential, but to discourage people from using e-cigarettes.

“I don’t think people realize how much toxins they’re putting into their body, and it’s creating a real health hazard,” Clark said. “It’s just to start a public debate on it and see if we can treat it like any other tobacco product.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year warned that e-cigarettes will lead to an increase in nicotine addiction and potentially an increase in the use of tobacco products.

But Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said the tax would hurt growing small businesses in Kentucky.

“Consumers are increasingly price-sensitive. These products can easily be purchased online,” Conley said.

Four states and Washington, D.C., have special taxes on electronic cigarette products.

North Carolina and Louisiana charge 5 cents per milliliter of the nicotine liquid. Kansas will tax 20 cents per milliliter starting in July 2016. Minnesota has a 95 percent wholesale tax on any product containing nicotine and Washington, D.C., taxes 68 percent on e-cigarette equipment.

Some electronic cigarette devices cost between $100 and $200,  and the additional taxes would make them too expensive for some users, said Conley.

Last year, a Kentucky Health Issues Poll said 53 percent of Kentucky adults favored an tax on e-cigarettes similar to the 60 cent per pack excise tax levied against tobacco products.

Twenty-four percent of Kentucky residents have used e-cigarettes, according to the Kentucky Health Issues Poll. Use was much higher — 41 percent — for Kentucky residents ages 18-29.

The legislative session begins on Jan. 5.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.