U.S. Midterm Primer: What’s at stake for consumer choice?

The Consumer Choice Center doesn’t take positions on any specific political campaigns or elections, but there are at least some interesting state-level ballot proposals happening around the country that could overwhelmingly benefit consumer choice.

In the U.S. federal system, state residents are eligible to vote on certain popular initiatives and state constitutional amendments that will have a major impact on daily life for citizens and consumers.

CANNABIS

Michigan and North Dakota will both vote to legalize cannabis at the state level in separate ballot initiatives. Legalizing cannabis would be a boon to the economy and consumer choice, removing cannabis sales from the black market and allowing governments to both regulate and tax it safely and securely. That’s a huge win for consumers in those states. The same applies to medical cannabis on the ballot in Utah and Missouri. Allowing legitimate medical patients the ability to use cannabis to cure their ailments legally will help potentially thousands of consumers.

GROCERY TAXES

In Washington State and Oregon, there are separate ballot proposals that would prohibit local jurisdictions from imposing additional taxes on grocery items. That would favor all consumers, and help ensure that hard-working American families won’t be forced to pay higher prices for what they already consume, or be forced to shop across city and county lines in order to find the most affordable food. Because they’re regressive, grocery taxes end up hurting lower income houses the most. By capping local jurisdictions’ abilities to raise taxes on groceries across the board, the proposal would ensure Washington and Oregon consumers won’t be subject to discriminatory tax hikes at the local level.

If Seattle is any indication, which passed a city-wide soda tax last year, consumers would be cautious. The soda tax was intended to lower consumption of sugary beverages, but considering the city now estimates it’ll collect $6 million more in taxes than they anticipated, more people are actually buying sodas than before or the numbers are wrong. Data we have from Cook County, Philadelphia, and Mexico consistently shows that higher soda taxes push people to seek alternatives with even more sugar or to shop across state lines to get their sugary drinks. Soda tax measures are well-intentioned, but end up hurting the poor.

ENERGY AND VAPING

Similarly, California’s Prop 6 would require voter approval for all future vehicle tax and fuel fees, as well as cancel the 2017 fuel taxes enacted by the state legislature. Such a proposal ensures consumers have a voice on the fees tacked on for those who drive cars and rely on transportation.

A ballot proposal in Florida seeks to ban both offshore drilling and vaping indoors in the same proposition. The fact that these questions are coupled together is unfair to Florida’s citizens and consumers. Vaping is proven to be less harmful than smoking and shouldn’t be treated the same as tobacco.

NET NEUTRALITY AND INTERNET REGULATIONS

Not up for a vote but still very important issue are a number of states considering their own net neutrality Internat regulations. As we saw in California, state legislatures and executives are considering passing their own rules for Internet regulation. Allowing each and every state to impose their own Internet rules would burden consumers and harm innovation.

More than that, state-level Internet regulations will threaten the vast entrepreneurial and tech space that is growing across the country, and push companies to set up in jurisdictions that promise true Internet freedom rather than state-imposed regulation of content and delivery of Internet services.

FEDERAL ISSUES IN CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS

Along with state ballot proposals, the entire U.S. House will be up for election, as well as two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. Important issues on our radar include the future of fees and taxes imposed on the airline passengers, proposals to ban single-use plastics, self-driving car and truck regulations, national cannabis decriminalization, health care freedom, and many more.

Be sure to follow the Consumer Choice Center on social media, subscribe to our newsletter and join CCC as a member, and consider making a donation if you believe our work is important for lifestyle freedom, market access, and consumer choice.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

Letter to the Utah House Revenue and Taxation Committee on HB 88

Dear Chairman Eliason and members of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee,

I received thoughtful feedback from many of you after I wrote to you last month to share my concerns that H.B. 88 (Electronic Cigarette and Other Nicotine Product Amendments) would harm Utah consumers (especially the most vulnerable), local businesses, and provide no countervailing benefit to the broader public or to the treasury.

I was pleased that some of you shared my view that this attempt to create additional tax revenue does not justify the negative ramifications it will have for your constituents. You understand that any excise tax on lower-risk alternatives to combustible cigarettes would make it harder for your constituents to quit smoking. But this 86% tax proposal is particularly unwise as it would guarantee an expansion of the black market while harming responsible businesses in your community.

Some of you also sought a better understanding about whether e-cigarettes are indeed helping adult smokers quit, and the impact of e-cigarettes on youth, who we all agree should not use any nicotine products, including e-cigarettes.

I wanted to share some recent developments that add to the substantial evidence that suggests that e-cigarettes should be regulated, but with caution, given their potential to help adult smokers quit.

Yesterday, the American Cancer Society, which had been a strident opponent of e-cigarettes, announced an important change in course.  Without dismissing concerns about youth, ACS now recommends “that clinicians support all attempts to quit the use of combustible tobacco and work with smokers to eventually stop using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes.  Some smokers, despite firm clinician advice, will not attempt to quit smoking cigarettes and will not use FDA approved cessation medications.  These individuals should be encouraged to switch to the least harmful form of tobacco product possible; switching to the exclusive use of e-cigarettes is preferable to continuing to smoke combustible products.”

Additionally, although there are certainly differences between the populations in Utah and the U.K., this month’s Public Health England’s updated comprehensive review is instructive. In describing the analysis, their tobacco control program lead wrote, “Our report found no evidence so far to support the concern that e-cigarettes are a route into smoking among young people. UK surveys show that young people are experimenting with e-cigarettes, but regular use is rare and confined almost entirely to those who already smoke. Meanwhile, smoking rates among young people in the UK continue to decline. 

He added that, There is currently no evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are encouraging people to continue smoking – the picture in the UK suggests the opposite. The proportion of e-cigarette users who are ex-smokers has been increasing over recent years. Of the 2.9 million adult e-cigarette users in the UK, more than half have completely stopped smoking. A further 770,000 have given up both smoking and vaping. At the same time, quit success rates have been improving and we’re seeing an accelerated drop in smoking rates, currently at a record low of 15.5% in England.

I have faith that the public health community, legislators, and responsible local businesses can work together to prevent youth use of e-cigarettes without unnecessarily harming adult smokers and Utah businesses, so many of whom are diligent in not allowing minors to even enter their premises. It is evident that youth who use e-cigarettes attain them from illicit businesses and other sources. This tax would do nothing to address that problem.

Sincerely,

Jeff Stier Senior Fellow, Consumer Choice Center

@JeffAStier

February 21, 2018

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About Jeff Stier

Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center. Mr. Stier has been a frequent guest on CNBC, and has addressed health policy on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, as well as network newscasts. He is a guest on over 100 radio shows a year, including on NPR and top-rated major market shows in cities including Boston, Philadelphia, and Sacramento, plus syndicated regional broadcasts. Jeff’s op-eds have been published in top outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, Forbes, The Washington Examiner, and National Review Online.