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Vaping among high school students has risen 135 percent in just two years, and the government deserves more than a little blame. The Food and Drug Administration has dragged its feet on regulation, and lawmakers have resisted reforms to make e-cigarettes less appealing to children. Government inaction has jeopardized one of America's greatest public-health achievements of recent years: the drastic decline in teen smoking.

The House of Representatives can help to put this right. It's about to consider a new tax on e-cigarettes -- a policy that's long overdue.

E-cigarettes aren't safe. It took a mysterious outbreak linked to 37 deaths to grab the country's attention, but the dangers of vaping high levels of nicotine were already well-known. It's addictive, it strains the cardiovascular system, and it's especially dangerous to young people. In other words, we should be doing everything we can to discourage young people from using these products.

Which makes it shocking that vaping products aren't taxed by the federal government. The World Health Organization has called tobacco taxes "the most cost-effective solution for reducing tobacco use": On average, every 10 percent increase in tobacco prices cuts consumption by 4 percent (and by as much as 7 percent among teenagers, who are more sensitive to prices). The nationwide decline in smoking has a lot to do with taxation: As the federal cigarette tax rose sixfold between 1990 and 2014, per-capita use fell by more than half.

The Protecting American Lungs Act cleared an important committee last month and will face a full House vote. It would tax vape products at the same rate as cigarettes -- adding $1.15 to the price of a Juul pod, a 20 percent increase over the manufacturer's retail price. That's a lower tax than most public-health experts would recommend, but high enough to make a dent in teen smoking rates.

The truth is that well-designed tobacco taxes aren't a partisan concern: They're a public-health necessity, supported by abundant research.

Commentary on 11/08/2019

Print Headline: Make vaping expensive

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