The justification for sin taxes - high taxes on products that society frowns upon - is that they will discourage people from activities generally considered to be vices.

That's why it has been so easy for New Jersey to raise the tax on cigarettes five times in the past 10 years. Smokers now pay a whopping $2.70 per pack as a state tax.

But if adding more than 13 cents to the price of each cigarette encourages people to quit smoking, that's a good thing, right?

Unfortunately, people who can't shake their nicotine cravings aren't the only addicts in this equation. Governments also become addicted - to revenue streams.

How else can you explain the fact that Gov. Chris Christie's budget plan - which he claims contains no tax increases - includes a proposal to extend the $2.70 tax to electronic cigarettes?

E-cigarettes use a small battery to produce vapor rather than smoke. Some deliver nicotine, flavored in various ways.

Former smokers have helped to drive U.S. sales to $1.5 billion annually. They say the vapor devices are the only thing that has enabled them to kick the cigarette habit.

The devices cannot be marketed as smoking-cessation tools, but certainly many people are using them to wean themselves from cigarettes. Why would the state want to discourage that?

Not everyone agrees that e-cigarettes are a harmless alternative to smoking. Los Angeles lawmakers this month voted to ban their use in public places, joining cities such as New York, Boston and Chicago.

A February press release from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the vapor produced by e-cigarettes has far fewer toxins than cigarette smoke, but it called for more study on the health effects. The federal Food and Drug Administration has proposed a rule that would allow it to regulate e-cigarettes.

The CDC also raised the possibility that children and teens who get used to the flavored vapors - with or without nicotine - may transition easily into tobacco smokers. That is a serious concern, of course, and it is best addressed by restricting children's access to the devices.

But the fact is, without more study, we simply don't know what the long-term impact of e-cigarettes will be - and there's a good chance that impact will be positive for many nicotine addicts.

So it is premature to impose a sin tax that may discourage people from using a product that can help them stop smoking cigarettes, a habit we know is deadly.

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