Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Keith Roark said a vote by Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, against a ban on dissolvable tobacco is a victory for special interests and a loss for the people of Idaho.
“There is no question that the bill would have been good for Idaho’s young people, but the tobacco industry felt it would have been bad for their business," Roark said in a news release.
Smyser initially voted in favor of a ban on dissolvable tobacco proposed by Sen. Elliot Werk in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Feb. 22, which would have sent the plan out of committee. Werk defined dissolvable tobacco as finely-ground and flavored tobacco packaged to look like candy, breath strips, and mints. After the vote was tallied and Werk left the room, Smyser changed her vote to oppose the ban, which effectively killed the ban. Before the vote, she acknowledged a conflict of interest, since her husband, Skip Smyser, is a lobbyist for several companies, including the Altria tobacco company. Altria currently is not selling dissolvable tobacco.
"The tobacco lobby wanted the bill killed," Roark said. "After the committee had moved on to other business, Sen. Smyser moved to change her vote and the bill was killed."
Smyser said after the vote that her vote switch was a personal decision.
In addition to criticizing Smyser's vote, Roark said that Idaho lawmakers should strengthen their ethics policies. “The people of Idaho are entitled to know that the public’s business is managed in the public interest, not to advance special interests. Public trust in our public processes is vital. I call upon Republican legislators to join their Democratic colleagues and enact a strict code of ethics for all members of the Idaho House and Senate.”