Rep. Andy Davis (R-Little Rock) introduced new legislation today to produce revenue — primarily from medical marijuana — to provide support for a proposed cancer research institute at UAMS. It contains a singular concession, but otherwise still stinks of the tobacco lobby.
The sop is an added provision lifting the age of legal tobacco use, including vaping, to 21, except for those in the military. There’s also a significant grandfather clause exempting those who turn 19 or older by the end of this year. In other words, we’re more than two years away from a 21 age requirement. A couple of Arkansas cities have already raised the age for legal smoking.
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The legislation is otherwise much the same — too much the same — as legislation I wrote about earlier that had anti-tobacco people up in arms. “Regulatory and tax relief for Big Tobacco,” one lobbyist called it.
First and foremost, the legislation still contains a local pre-emption provision to prevent local regulaton of tobacco. Regulation has historically begun at the local level because the tobacco lobby’s heavy spending has always made state legislative change a heavy lift.
It still contains a lower tax rate for so-called “modified risk” tobacco products, the latest new profit-making idea of the tobacco industry, sold as “healthier,” as in the days when “low tar” was sold as a health benefit.
It still diverts medical marijuana revenue to cancer research, though it no longer increases the marijuana tax for that purpose. It merely takes the money from general revenue. (There’s plenty there, right? Prosperity is just around the corner thanks to the tax cut for the rich.)
It provides no higher tax increase on iold-school tobacco products, except the same small 2 percent increase in the basic cost of the retail price of cigarettes.
It retains the same 50-cent-a-pack new tax on 32 sheets of rolling papers.
A tax on liquids for e-cigarettes remains the same as before, higher than some but no higher than any other state.
There’s still hope for a better outcome. Another bill has already been filed with a meaningful tax on electronic cigarettes. Another tobacco tax increase is in the works, but not yet filed, to support UAMS and perhaps fund anti-bullying efforts.