SMOKING! Rep. Andy Davis has one last favor for the tobacco lobby. Brian Chilson

A fitting coda for this special interest-dominated legislative session is — another — piece of legislation to help the tobacco lobby.

They almost jammed this 11th-hour stinker out of the Senate yesterday without so much as a pro forma committee hearing. But HB 1890 by the tobacco lobby’s friend, Rep. Andy Davis (R-Little Rock) will be on the agenda in Senate committee this morning before speeding to Senate passage. What’s it do? Well, it changes the tobacco permit fee structure. Up or down? DFA doesn’t seem sure.

I do know this. In a 50-page bill from the tobacco lobby, you can expect cancerous matter. For example: Down around pages 49 and 50, you’ll see they are eliminating workplace safety rules for vape shops and the requirement for childproof packaging of vaping materials. The argument by bill proponents is that those rules belong under another agency, not the Tobacco Control Board, and they’re not being enforced anyway. This is just a little ol‘ agency “cleanup bill,” said Sen. Jason Rapert.

Michael Keck, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society said the legislation removed power from a state board, putting that power in hands of the agency director. He said he feared the rules weren’t forward-thinking enough, particularly with the coming of vaping dispensing machines. And he said that though cleanliness and child protection measures perhaps could be handled better in another agency, no provision has been made for this.

Advertisement

You’ll remember that Davis carried the tobacco lobby blood money bill. It promised money for the UAMS cancer research initiative through a pittance in new tobacco taxes. So uncertain is that revenue stream that the governor has earmarked $10 million in his rainy day fund for UAMS should that tax bill fall short. The tax money, if it materializes, will come more from medical marijuana than tobacco products. The bill also pre-empted local control of smoking, a real “get” for the tobacco lobby.

Efforts by others to exact a higher price or impose stronger rules were snuffed out. Remember Sen. Jim Hendren’s real tobacco tax bill.? DOA in the House.

The tobacco lobbyists and their handmaidens in the legislature earned their money and their campaign contributions this session. I do wonder if those who stood silent (or worse, coerced it) on deeply held and scientifically rooted opposition to tobacco can look at themselves in the mirror today.

UPDATE: Corn through a goose. The bill went out of committee with no dissent.

UPDATE II: It came out of the Senate with one no vote, from Sen. Will Bond, who tried in various ways unsuccessfully to deter vaping.