Two regulations on tobacco products – a fee on permits to sell tobacco and a ban on dissolvable tobacco – failed to get out of an Idaho Senate committee Monday.
Stores selling tobacco in Idaho may not see a fee of up to $140 for the cost of state tobacco licensing and enforcement. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted Monday to hold onto a proposal from Sen. Elliot Werk that would add a fee to cover the Idaho Tobacco Project, which currently issues tobacco permits and inspects retailers every year. The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) and Idaho State Police (ISP) spend about $294,000 a year on the program.
“I feel that the taxpayers of Idaho should not be paying the cost of retailers to sell tobacco,” Werk said. Funding for the program comes largely from the DHW’s budget. The Idaho Millennium Fund, the annual payout of Idaho's settlement money with tobacco companies, covers $94,000 for ISP’s inspection costs. Werk estimated that stores would see a $140 or $150 fine of their tobacco license. “The $140 cost could be recouped with a very small increase in price,” he said, likely less than 5 cents a pack.
Only Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, voted in support of the new fee. She said the proposal is like similar user fees lawmakers are considering this session, like at state parks. “We have in many instances shifted the cost of services to those who do use them,” she said. “I think it’s very reasonable to put this forward.”
Opposition to the plan centered on the added cost to stores. “Our small retailers are struggling as it is,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle. “To add another burden seems unfair to me.”
“This is a tough economy, and a lot of our small stores are fighting to keep their doors open,” said Pam Eaton, president of the Idaho Retailers Association. “Retailers already pay a lot of taxes and a lot into Idaho.”
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, said state tobacco taxes are already being used for state services. “The smokers of this state, through their cigarette tax, are paying for the $120 million that we spent on remodeling and adding to (the Idaho Capitol),” he said. The cigarette tax is paying off bonds for the recently restored capitol. “Seems like a pretty fair swap to me.”
“Our tobacco tax doesn’t even cover the current cost we have associated with tobacco,” Werk responded to Hammond. He said taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products bring in $50 million, but smoking-related Medicaid costs to Idaho total $80 million.
Broadsword held the legislation in the committee rather than voting to get rid of it. That means the plan could resurface. Broadsword and Werk told IdahoReporter.com that lawmakers could still dedicate part of the tobacco taxes to DHW’s work or raise tobacco taxes, but that fees to sellers are off the table.
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee also rejected Werk’s proposed ban on dissolvable tobacco. Werk defined the product for the committee: “Dissolvable tobacco is finely-ground and flavored tobacco packaged to look like candy, breath strips, and mints. They contain between 60 and 300 percent of the nicotine delivered by a cigarette. They have the same health problems and cancer issues as any tobacco that’s placed in your mouth.” Werk said it should be outlawed because he feels it’s targeted to children. “It’s being marketed very heavily to teens," he said. “This kind of product is an entry into the world of tobacco and nicotine addiction.”
Several other lawmakers agreed with Werk’s assessment of dissolvable tobacco. “It’s not a good product and it’s marketed toward to youth,” said Sen. Charles Coiner, R-Twin Falls, who said the packaging looked like candy.
“This definitely would be an attractive package,” said Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise. “I don’t see how a reasonable person could not say these would be really attractive to kids.” Coiner and Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, joined the two Democrats on the panel in support of the ban. The five other Republicans on the panel voted down the ban. Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, initially voted in favor of the ban, which would have sent it to the Senate floor, but changed her stance after the votes were tallied. Before the vote, she said that she had a conflict of interest on the issue. Her husband, Skip Smyser, runs a lobbying firm that represents the tobacco company Altria. Smyser said after the meeting that she exercised her freedom of choice in changing her vote.
Steve West, speaking to lawmakers on behalf of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, said the company wasn’t targeting children under 18 with dissolvable tobacco. “They are a legal tobacco product developed for adults who choose to use tobacco.” He also said the products’ child-resistant packaging is harder to open than some prescription drugs. He also said there’s no scientific reason to ban dissolvable tobacco but allow cigarettes, cigars, and chew. “We haven’t seen any basis or evidence for dissolvable tobacco to be prohibited,” he said. “I think selective prohibitions are really poor public policy.”
“If I had my druthers, we’d ban tobacco,” Werk said after West spoke. “I can’t see what’s good about the product in any form.” He said the advertising and relative recent introduction led him to propose the ban. ““I’d like us to prohibit the sales of these products because they’re meant as an introduction for teens and young people to become addicted to nicotine, and then begin their lifelong tobacco habit.” Werk said it’s unlikely Idaho lawmakers will debate the ban on dissolvable tobacco going forward.