Kentucky smokers, regardless of whether they are puffing a traditional cigarette or the latest electronic version, would and should have to pay the same tax rate under legislation filed for the 2020 General Assembly by two state lawmakers on Tuesday. So would users of smokeless tobacco.

With Kentucky ranking second-highest in the country for prevalence of e-cigarette usage at 6.1%, legislators are pinning their hopes on curbing the teen vaping epidemic that has swept through the Bluegrass State. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 3.6 million adolescents were vaping last year — a 78% rise from the previous year.

The bill would raise the e-cigarette tax from 15% to 27½% — the same amount charged for a pack of traditional cigarettes. Currently, the state assesses a $1.10 tax per pack — well below the national average of $1.73.

If the bill is passed, Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, one of its sponsors, believes it could bring in an estimated $35 million of revenue that could help fund the state’s ailing public pension system.

“When we raised the tax on cigarettes a few years ago, e-cigarettes flew under the radar. But I think it’s time to really take a hard look not only at the exploding use of these products, but in Kentucky we need revenue,” Moser explained.

Along with cosponsor Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, Moser believes the tax rate hike would reduce the number of adolescents and pregnant women addicted to nicotine products. However, of the estimated $371 million in tobacco settlement payments and taxes Kentucky received last year, the state allocated a mere $2.6 million in state funds to tobacco prevention.

While we agree that raising the tax rate on e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco will help deter folks from picking up the habit and raise much-needed revenue, it is simply not enough. The commonwealth also needs to provide more education and cessation programs for Kentuckians to quit smoking, vaping or chewing, or else it is just spinning its wheels.

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