Vaping is a hot new trend, and Gov. Chris Christie’s administration wants to capitalize on that. The state has proposed to increase taxes on electronic cigarettes, to replicate the tax burden of conventional cigarettes.

This is a good idea, the state treasurer argues, because “e cigarettes” have not been shown to be a safe alternative to regular cigarettes.

“Our main concern is public health,” he said.

Excuse our skepticism, but Christie cut $7.5 million from the state’s anti smoking programs in 2010, and since then the state has spent little to nothing on smoking cessation and education programs. No doubt another main concern is the governor’s budget Christie anticipates $35 million in revenue from this tax.

But do we even know that e cigarettes are a threat to public health?

The Federal Food and Drug Administration has not yet evaluated them for safety or effectiveness, or issued regulations. All we know is that they can be less addictive than cigarettes, and lack the added tar and toxins. Many researchers say that nicotine alone is not a serious health hazard that it’s the deadly tar in conventional cigarettes that kills you. E cigarette users avoid that by inhaling a nicotine laced vapor, which is why it’s called “vaping.”

Studies show this is at least as effective as nicotine patches in helping people quit smoking the single largest cause of preventable death in our country, killing about 480,000 people a year.

So there’s a real, life saving benefit to e cigarettes, which may greatly outweigh any risks. If these gadgets are not known to be an enemy to public health, and may in fact be hugely beneficial, why tax them like cigarettes?

We need to study this further, before we bring down the hammer and start imposing punitive taxes. Certainly, we don’t want Joe Camel reappearing in the meantime, e cig in hand, to peddle this to kids. The question is how to regulate it.

The government should impose the same restrictions on marketing and sale of e cigarettes as they do on regular tobacco products. And there should be some form of quality control. But a sin tax isn’t the answer. E cigarettes should be taxed at the same level as pharmaceutical, over the counter nicotine products that help smokers quit with a simple sales tax.

Taxing e cigs as if they were cigarettes only makes them less attractive to smokers who want to switch. And if the Christie administration’s true concern is public health, that should be reason enough not to.