Things are developing on the blowback I reported last week to legislation written by the tobacco lobby to theoretically help pay for a cancer research institute at UAMS, but actually a Trojan horse for Big Tobacco. One development is a new bill that would impose a meaningful tax on e-cigarettes.
Legislation was introduced today by four Democrats — Sens. Will Bond and Joyce Elliott and Reps. Tippi McCullough and Denise Garner — to propose a privilege tax on e-cigarettes equal to the tax levied on tobacco products.
I don’t have a figure on that proposal yet, but it’s big and growing. The bill would dedicate the first $10 million annually to the proposed cancer research institute at UAMS and the overage to UAMS operations. Now, only the regular state 6.5 percent sales tax applies.
Great idea. With Democratic sponsorship, it starts with long odds. But it puts down a marker for the existing legislation on the subject, which I described Friday as blood money.
A bill shaped by the tobacco lobby seems to provide some money for cancer research in a way loosely related to the tobacco business. But it imposes a tiny tax on cigarettes, pre-empts local regulation of smoking or electronic cigarettes, provides a reduced rate for tobacco products deemed “lower risk,” imposes a small tax on vaping liquid and, critics contend, doesn’t produce sufficient revenue numbers to meet UAMS needs for cancer research.
If I read this new proposal right, it might be a new tax and thus not subject to the 75 percent vote threshold. If so, that could really make it a starter.
Meanwhile, about that other bill, being shepherded by a tobacco lobbyist and sponsored by Rep. Andy Davis and Sen. Jonathan Dismang. Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren sent signals on Twitter over the weekend that he was ready to do battle with Big Tobacco on this bill. And I’ve heard from others that resistance to the bill is growing to the extent that it may soon be revised.
This one is really simple: The tax on cigarettes hasn’t been raised in 11 years. Slap 50 cents a pack or so cigarettes and raise $40 million. It would discourage smoking, a health scourge with an immense cost to the state through Medicaid; cover the cancer institute and also provide money sorely needed at UAMS. But I like getting into the growth industry of e-cigarettes.
The e-cigarette tax will set the tobacco lobby on fire. Big Tobacco has turned heavily to vaping to replace lost cigarette revenue, selling it as a healthier alternative, a proposition many are not ready to accept.