Minnesota tobacco tax may give boost to e-cigarettes
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A looming increase in Minnesota's cigarette tax is leading to new interest in electronic cigarettes as an alternative to traditional smoking.
Shop owners in the Twin Cities are seeing increased demand in so-called "e-cigarettes," and attribute that to the $1.60-per-pack tax increase that goes into effect next week, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
Electronic cigarettes became widely available in the U.S. in 2007. While they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, they all work the same way. When a user takes a puff, a battery heats an element that vaporizes a liquid often containing nicotine. The user then inhales the mist, which can be flavored.
Sina War runs the Uptown Vapor Shoppe, an e-cigarette store she opened in south Minneapolis two months ago. She opened a second location in Maplewood last weekend.
"It's not just replacing cigarettes," War said of e-cigarettes. "It becomes more of a hobby because you can really customize your experience when using electronic cigarettes."
Angie Griffith, who co-owns Smokeless Smoking, helped start the operation in 2009 at a mall kiosk in Burnsville. It's now opened four outlets, including a Bloomington location six months ago. She cited strong business from customers who don't want to pay the new cigarette tax.
"A lot of customers have come in and noted that that has been their motivation because they can no longer afford cigarettes, and unfortunately a lot of times cost is a bigger motivator than health," Griffith said. "But obviously these people want to be healthier, too."
Skeptics say e-cigarettes are also unhealthy, and some are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to play a stronger role in regulating them. The FDA has said more research is needed to assess risks and possible benefits, and the agency is in the process of proposing a regulation to extend its oversight authority to include e-cigarettes.
The American Lung Association has criticized electronic cigarettes for glamorizing smoking and for attracting kids with flavors such as cotton candy and bubble gum.
One scientist who has researched tobacco for 25 years said the people who use e-cigarettes are generally people who smoke regular cigarettes, not people who didn't smoke previously. Michael Siegel, a professor in the Boston University School of Public Health, said smokers who are trying to quit tobacco should consider other options before e-cigarettes, such as nicotine patches or gum.
"Are there questions about the long-term effects of use? Well, yes," Siegel said. "There are questions about the long-term effects of almost any product. But does that mean we should encourage people not to use them until 20 or 30 years from now when we have all of the details worked out? No, I don't think so. I think what we want to be doing is getting people off of cigarettes, which we know is going to kill them."
Some industry analysts are forecasting that e-cigarette sales could end up outpacing sales of regular cigarettes over the next 10 years.
Griffith has the same prediction. Given the trends she's been seeing, she and her partners plan to continue expanding.
"We're looking at a few other spaces right now," she said, "so we hope by the end of the year to have at least a couple more lounge-style stores."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.