Aides to Governor Deval Patrick have dropped an initiative for a tax on e-cigarettes after gauging the political appetite among lawmakers and finding it limited, legislative officials said.
Administration officials checked in recent weeks to find out whether members of the Legislature. who have shied from some of the tax hikes that Patrick has previously proposed, would go along with a levy on the devices, which offer an experience similar to smoking tobacco. The administration was considering including the tax in the budget Patrick will submit next week.
Massachusetts would have become the second state, after Minnesota, to impose a tobacco tax on e-cigarettes at a rate similar to traditional cigarettes, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
Reaction was cool, said legislative officials. Patrick’s budget proposal, set for a Jan. 22 rollout, will not include the e-cigarette levy, spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin said.
The e-cigarettes are legal for minors to purchase in Massachusetts. A House bill, filed by Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, cochairman of the Public Health Committee and a Democrat of Jamaica Plain, would classify e-cigarettes as nicotine products and prohibit their sale to minors, but not tax the products.
The appeal to young people of the e-cigarettes’ comparatively low price point was a top argument for the new tax made by administration officials, said one person who heard the pitch.
Before a meeting Monday with Senate president Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Patrick said he was planning to include in his budget the same set of tax proposals the Legislature has previously rejected, calling them “the same old ones we’ve proposed.” Those measures include removing candy and soda from the list of tax-exempt food products.
“Nothing new,” Patrick said.
Last year, legislators slammed Patrick’s proposed $1.9 billion tax hike, which would have funded transportation projects and education programs. Instead, they opted for a $500 million tax boost and dedicated the revenue to transportation.
But legislators are frequently more accepting of “sin taxes” that can be framed as beneficial to public health. As part of the tax hikes last year, the Legislature approved a $1-per-pack bump in cigarette taxes.
E-cigarettes represent a new market still developing, with policymakers scrambling to catch up, the way that laws on cellphones and other comparatively recent technological advances are still taking shape.
Federal policymakers have yet to decide how to regulate e-cigarettes nationally, said Karmen Hanson, health program manager at the Conference of State Legislatures.
Public health experts have been divided on the effects of e-cigarettes. The products do not emit smoke the way traditional cigarettes do and do not contain tar. Cartridges inside the products discharge liquid that is converted into vapor.
The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate e-cigarettes the way they do traditional tobacco products. Product advocates and some health professionals say that e-cigarettes can help with smoking cessation and might inflict less health damage than other nicotine products.