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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Lawmakers Ponder A Tax On E-Cigarettes


E-cigarettes, the rapidly growing alternative to traditional cigarettes, were the focus of a hearing in Salem on Tuesday.

Here's one way to tell that e-cigarettes are different than their normal counterparts: E-cigarettes are hawked by celebrities.

E-cigs are growing in popularity, with major tobacco giants Altria and RJ Reynolds entering the market.

Here's how they work: A battery-powered element heats up a liquid that usually contains nicotine. The Oregon Department of Revenue's Deanna Mack told lawmakers that the liquid forms a vapor. Hence, "It's called vaping as opposed to smoking," says Mack. "Instead of smokers, they're vapers. And they vape."

The worry is, if more people switch, it could eat into state tobacco tax revenue, which topped $255 million last fiscal year in Oregon.

But some lawmakers wonder if the state should stay away from taxing e-cigarettes, which are generally considered to have fewer negative health effects than the traditional variety.