Lawmakers are considering a tax for vape products. Vape shops warn it could fuel a dangerous black market.

Lawmakers are considering a tax for vape products. Vape shops warn it could fuel a dangerous black market.
Voltage Vapin', owned by Virginia Smoke Free Association President Jay Taylor, opened in 2013. Taylor and other vape shop owners are worried how a potential state tax could affect them. (Source: Mechelle Hankerson/The Virginia Mercury)

It used to be that Jay Taylor smoked his first cigarette — a Marlboro Red — before getting out of bed in the morning. By the time most days were over, he would have smoked three packs.

Taylor worked at UNOS, which manages organ transplants, so he knew that smoking degraded his lungs, heart and other vital organs. But he couldn’t stop, until he was introduced to vaping.

“I approached it as a way to cut back,” he said. “Within 48 hours, I didn’t want a cigarette.”

Taylor left his job at UNOS to open one of the first vape shops in Virginia in 2013. It’s still open today in Chesterfield County. He’s also president of the Virginia Smoke Free Association, which lobbies policymakers on behalf of the state’s 400 vape shops.

But steps at the state level to tax vapor products could stymie Taylor’s businesses and the hundreds of other shops in the state, who say vaping is a safer and healthier alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes. And, Taylor and other proponents warn, an existing black market of vape products would only grow stronger if the products get too expensive because of additional taxes.

The conversation straddles tax and health policy now that several deaths — including one of a Virginia man — have been attributed to vape products. It’s not the first time lawmakers have had to weigh the issue. Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, has introduced legislation related to taxing or limiting access to vape products since 2014.

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