Chris Christie has repeatedly said that he’s not interested in talking about a presidential run and is busy running affairs in New Jersey. Judging by some of the most recent news I’ll have to take him at his word, since he’s apparently not going out of his way to court conservatives. As people have been going through the Governor’s most recent budget, it was noted that the latest plan calls for hiking taxes on e-cigarettes up to the level of traditional tobacco smokes. I, for one, certainly didn’t see this one coming.

A proposed new tax on electronic cigarettes was the burning topic today at the first legislative committee meeting of the state budget season.

Gov. Chris Christie’s budget proposal, delivered last month, suggests raising taxes on the “e-cigarettes” to the regular rate for cigarettes — which is $2.70 per pack — saying they’re “unregulated and subject to standard State sales taxes only.”

But at the state Assembly Budget Committee’s meeting today at Montclair State University, Steven Clark — a Union City resident who said he quit smoking regular cigarettes a year ago thanks to e-cigarettes that provide nicotine through liquid vapor instead of smoke — called the idea of raising taxes on them “reckless and harmful.”

“Electronic cigarettes have the potential to make smoking obsolete within a generation,” Clark said. “With the right combination of tailored regulation and cost-incentives, e-cigs might end smoking as we know it.”

Imposing more sin taxes of any kind to fill the state’s coffers under the guise of altering people’s behavior isn’t exactly conservative doctrine, but this move is particularly questionable. (Full disclosure: I’m smoking an e-cig as I type this.)

Leaving aside the entire question of raising taxes for a moment, I’d like to hear Governor Christie’s rationale for this and what purpose he expects to achieve. Numerous experts – including one former Surgeon General – have come out in support of e-cigarettes as an effective tool for quitting smoking. I personally know three people who have managed to entirely quit tobacco for six months or more by making the switch. Is it possible that the nicotine vapor has adverse health effects? I suppose so, but we know for a fact that tobacco is bad for you. Why would you discourage something which is already showing results above and beyond that of nicotine patches or gum?

This also just looks bad in terms of political bedfellows. There have been persistent reports that one of the biggest opponents to e-cigarettes is the pharmaceutical industry, possibly because the vapor cigarettes cut into their very lucrative market for gum and patches. Anyone with an eye on their future electoral chances should probably think twice before they’re seen as being in bed with Big Pharma. Plus, as we’ve discussed here in relation to many states where high sin taxes have been imposed, the Garden State is already dealing with their own black market for smuggled cigarettes. Higher taxes simply swell the incentive for people to side-step the laws to save (or make) money. Why would this not happen with e-cigs as well?

This is a bad move by Christie an he should rethink this one. Quickly.