Will California’s Prop. 56 Kill Vaping in The Golden State?

If it passes, Prop. 56 will add a tax to e-liquid that may deal a death blow to the California vaping industry


Prop. 56 is bad news for vaping

On Nov. 8, California voters will cast their ballots for president, Congress, and state and local offices. But they’ll also be voting on 17 ballot measures on all sorts of issues. One of those, Proposition 56, calls for an increase in tobacco taxes.

The measure will add $2.00 a pack to the existing $0.87 cigarette tax. But it also includes an “equivalent tax” on other tobacco products, and it defines vapor products that include nicotine as tobacco for purposes of the tax.

Most of the money generated by the new tax will go directly to insurance companies and special interest groups

That means that a tax of 70 percent — or even higher — could be added to the price of e-liquid and other nicotine-containing vapor products (like cigalikes, pod refills, and closed-system devices with liquid). That could hike the price of a $20 bottle of e-liquid to $35, or even more.

Most of the money generated by the new tax will go directly to insurance companies and special interest groups, without requiring any new services to California residents. And the money spent by those groups to paint Prop. 56 as “Big Tobacco vs. Children” has been considerable. And, naturally, anyone opposing the ballot measure is immediately branded a tobacco industry lackey.

How will the Prop. 56 affect vapers and vape shops?

Saving Money
Saving Money

According to the Nix56 website — created by the people from Not Blowing Smoke — the tax is paid to the state by the first business in California to sell the product. So it could be paid by a manufacturer, distributor, or a retailer. Also, consumers are themselves responsible for paying the tax on products purchased from out of state.

Vapers will immediately grasp the irony of this situation. Building a financial disincentive for people to quit smoking with e-cigarettes punishes smokers twice. Many smokers will not try vaping if Prop. 56 passes. And many vapers will probably return to smoking.

Dr. Sally Satel points out that “a comparable ‘sin tax’ will send the message that the alternatives are as dangerous as cigarettes – a surefire way to inhibit smokers from breaking their habit by trying less hazardous options. Ideally, we want to give smokers every incentive to switch. That means implicitly advertising their relative safety (through low to even no taxation) and making it cheaper to use noncombustible nicotine.”

A lot of small California businesses will die a slow death

And a lot of small California businesses will die a slow death, as existing customers leave and fewer new customers take their places. Some of the big e-liquid manufacturers may pack up and move to Arizona or Nevada, but the estimated 1,000-plus small shops will probably just close. That means employees out of work, and less revenue for the state rather than more.

The tobacco control industry (yes, it is an industry) in California is, of course, delighted by this. “Electronic cigarettes are extending and expanding the tobacco epidemic,” Stanton Glantz told CalMatters. “They are bringing a whole new group of kids into the tobacco market who would never start cigarettes.” There is no study that proves that. All evidence points to the exact opposite, that vaping has helped reduce teen use of cigarettes to the lowest level ever measured.

What can vapers do now?


The good news is that there are a lot of vapers in California. If vapers vote en masse against Prop. 65, and bring their families and friends along to help, we would make a massive difference in the results. The convenience store and gas station industries are also involved and raising awareness about the price hikes to come.

The two things vapers need to do now are simple: vote on Nov. 8, and tell everyone we know how important it is to those of us who have quit smoking that this measure not pass.

Beating the avalanche of propaganda is going to take every vaper's best effort.

California residents have until Oct. 24 to register to vote, so please do it now! It’s easy too. You can register online in just a few minutes. Or you can get an application at any county elections office, library, DMV office, or post office. If you do a paper application, it has to be postmarked before midnight on the 24th.

If you know vapers — or anyone else, for that matter! — who aren’t registered, please gently persuade them that now is the time to get involved and make a difference. There are other popular measures on the ballot, including a proposition to legalize recreational marijuana, which may increase turnout on Nov. 8. And the controversial presidential election will also bring voters to the polls. Beating the avalanche of propaganda is going to take every vaper’s best effort.

Jim McDonald
I spend most of my time studying the regulatory, legislative and scientific challenges to vaping, advocating for our right to exist, and talking with others who do the same. Consider me a source for information, and feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say. I love good coffee and sweet Michigan cherries. My childhood hero was Gordie Howe.